Size matters for Lodge’s replacement, say neighbouring residents

Council defers decision on allowing substantial zoning variances for seniors’ care facility

Artist's drawing shows the design for Garry Oaks Village

Artist's drawing shows the design for Garry Oaks Village

Residents are standing up against the proposed Garry Oaks Village.

Hoping to keep the sun shining on their homes – and their neighbourhoods from increased traffic – a group of people who live around the existing seniors’ care facility expressed concerns Monday to Oak Bay councillors over plans to replace the aging Oak Bay Lodge.

Baptist Housing, the proposed operator of Garry Oaks Village, is asking for two variances to existing zoning restrictions on the property. The main one that upset residents would see the new building more than double the height of the existing one.

“This was a bylaw which was put there for a reason. I don’t think we can lightly change it,” said Hampshire Road resident James Chestnut, who said such changes would affect the value of his home. “I think the onus is on the applicant to make sure it is not a hardship on the residents.”

Representatives of Baptist Housing – it currently operates Shannon Oaks independent living and Marrion Village assisted-living residences in Oak Bay – the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Cotter Architects outlined the proposal at this week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

The plan calls for a building height of 24.45 metres, well above the 10.77 m limit under current zoning – although the existing building stands 11.74 m.

“We do acknowledge there will be significant impact,” architect Patrick Cotter said of the proposed complex, “in select buildings, in particular.”

The other variance requested would reduce the number of parking spaces from the required 320 to 107, about one for every three beds. The current Oak Bay Lodge lot contains 68 parking spots, or less than one for every four beds.

In defending the plan, Cotter said refurbishing the current building up to provincial standards would cost as much as a new facility. The proposed $140-million project could last 60 years, he added, but wouldn’t make economic sense without the changes.

“This kind of scale is needed to absorb that kind of capital cost. That is not achievable in the existing form of the existing building. It is not a viable business plan.”

The project proposes raising the number of beds from the current 280 to 320. Cotter, armed with a digital 3-D computer presentation, offered details of the overall design to councillors and a packed gallery at Oak Bay municipal hall.

Most residents who got up to speak, however, were concerned more with the effect on their quality of life than the quality of the design.

Another bone of contention for many was that councillors had a limited time to decide on the variance requests.

Baptist Housing asked that a decision be made by Oct. 24 so it could secure financing and a favourable interest rate for the project.

Given that the project is being overseen by the health authority, it still needs provincial government approval to move forward.

“I think they tried to work (in) what they need to make this work – the scale – into that neighbourhood, but it is a tight fit and it is high. No question it will have an impact,” Mayor Christopher Causton said after the meeting.

“(However), if we turn this down, what are the alternatives? If they don’t get the height variance what happens? Do we miss the window of opportunity to get the funding? These are serious questions for a community.”

Causton was sensitive to the tight timeline and the pressure it was putting on all parties.

“I knew they were under a deadline, (but) I didn’t know it was as tight as that. That is a lot of pressure … I want to see if there was any room for movement.”

The mayor and councillors deferred their decision, after securing a promise from Baptist Housing that it would consult further with residents and look at potential ways of easing the impact of the project. Council will discuss the matter further at next Tuesday’s (Oct. 11) council meeting.

Some residents, including Hampshire Road resident John Rankin, are hoping for more time.

“This is an active neighbourhood… We don’t know (yet) what impact it will have. Once you grant this variance we lose all negotiating power,” Rankin said. “When we bought the property we never expected (to see that type of development) based on the Official Community Plan. (For) $140 million and three years (of planning and construction) what is two months?”