Slow building projects in Oak Bay put under the microscope

Council explores making changes to building bylaws to help speed up construction

Audrey Campsall stands on the second storey of her Beach Drive home. Renovations to the home have been ongoing for several years

Audrey Campsall stands on the second storey of her Beach Drive home. Renovations to the home have been ongoing for several years

Blair Robertson has been living next door to a home renovation project on Beach Drive for five years, and he’s not too happy about it.

“The main impact has been on the neighbours … the disruption to the neighbourhood. Certainly the noise (is a problem),” he told council.

Robertson, who lives near Estevan Avenue, has spoken to council in the past about the noise levels. He’s even posted a YouTube video of himself sitting in his backyard holding a decibel meter which shows sound levels higher than 70dB at times – equivalent to the amount of noise created by heavy traffic, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Home renovations are common in Oak Bay, but a handful of seemingly perpetual projects are leading council to seek ways to expedite their completion.

Audrey Campsall, who owns the Beach Drive home in question, has frustrations of her own with what she calls an ever-changing set of building permit and inspection regulations.

“It’s been the horror story of my life,” she said. “Every time I turn around there’s something more.”

Campsall detailed a number of issues which have delayed the work, which centres around the addition of a second storey to the structure. They include skyrocketing costs, problems with architects and engineers, and miles and miles of red tape.

She’s appeared before the variance board on six separate occasions, and claims to have had things like windows approved only to have an inspector come in and order their removal. There have also been disputes with the municipality over the length of building permits she’s been issued.

The problems have soured her on living in Oak Bay, a place where she had hoped to retire early.

“I thought it was a beautiful area to live in,” Campsall said amid her partially built project. “Now I would sell it if I could, but how can you sell this?”

Council received a staff report at the June 15 meeting which outlines possible bylaw options to address issues associated with long-term construction projects.

The report, requested by council last October, concludes that not much can be done, aside from a few revisions to the language of the “unsightly premises” section of the rubbish and weed control bylaw.

Robertson expressed frustration at the lack of viable solutions offered in the report.

“It’s appalling that after eight months of waiting, this one-page report is the result,” he said, “but frankly, I’m not surprised.”

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite was also unsatisfied with the report’s conclusions, which were reached by comparing Oak Bay’s bylaws to those of neighbouring municipalities, as well as Kelowna, Nanaimo and Courtenay.

“If we can’t find anything out there that we can follow or mirror, then we need to have a bylaw that’s made specifically for Oak Bay as far as how long it takes to build a building,” she said. “You have to take into consideration how it affects other people.”

Campsall said the last thing on her mind is causing problems in the neighbourhood.

“I’m not trying to do anything dishonest.”

Bylaw enforcement also subject to scrutiny

According to other Oak Bay residents, the language of the bylaws is not the problem, it’s their lack of enforcement.

“We’ve lived in other municipalities, but it’s more difficult to get the bylaws enforced here than anywhere else we’ve lived,” John Playfair told council. He lives across the street from another long-term renovation project at the intersection of Newport and Island Rd.

Playfair’s perception is in stark contrast to that of his neighbours, Laurie Nuger and Robert van Tassel, who have appealed to council for an extension to the cleanup order they received as a result of ongoing work on their property.

“If (Oak Bay’s bylaw enforcement officer) could at least have a discussion with us instead of treating us like criminals,” said Nuger, “this would be easier to deal with.”

Braithwaite is sympathetic to Nuger’s situation, but maintains that council’s responsibility is to all Oak Bay residents.

“I feel for the people that asked for the extension, but they’ve been given those letters before and haven’t followed through,” Braithwaite said. “All those neighbours, what does that say to them when we say they get an extension. They almost feel like second-class citizens. Nobody’s doing anything to protect them.”

Council has requested a new staff report be drafted which examines the issue in greater detail. The report is expected by the end of July.

In the meantime the municipality has increased the number of working hours of its bylaw enforcement officer, making it a full-time position.