The new Oak Bay official community plan has been criticized by some members of council and many residents as being too vague, with open-ended excessive development objectives. Ex-councillor Pam Copley’s recent OCP implementation account in the Oak Bay News may be well intentioned, however, it is unrealistic to believe you can legislate first (make major changes to all zoning bylaws), then after the fact, regulate and deal with the impacts to local residents. This is the process that has been followed by council: in last October’s zoning change that allows duplexes; in the case of the over-built Clive; and certainly in the “yet to be corrected” four-year, monster house fiasco.
The facts are: historically Oak Bay has been a desirable place to live mainly because of its setting and well-kept single-family neighbourhoods. It follows then that the business “supply and demand” concepts apply. Ms. Copley’s viewpoint, however, is the OCP and major zoning changes is the quick-fix solution to solve this age-old, higher housing price impact. Once these types of land use changes are made it is not possible to manage and limit real estate speculation and control growth. Ms. Copely has given examples of allowing more multi-family housing developments in all of Oak Bay, i.e. on transportation corridors and in single-family areas, as well as allowing basement suites. These land-use changes she proposes cannot co-exist with maintaining Oak Bay’s character. There are many examples of communities that have implemented such development changes and are now dealing with the inherent problems that have resulted. Oak Bay is currently the CRD’s standard for livability and attractiveness, however, if Oak Bay follows the development lead of other municipalities, as Ms. Copley suggests, this will dramatically change.
Her implied basement suite legalization argument is the classic example of this and the backward planning process: almost all basement suites in B.C. are unregulated. Legalization does not alter this fact, only adds to this unsafe total. If residents and absentee landlords do not obey the law when suites are illegal, they certainly won’t hesitate to have an illegal suite if they are legally approved. Regulating suites is expensive, or we and other communities would already have done so. The downside for the majority of existing residents without suites is they have to fund the necessary services and infrastructure to support this increased population. They will also have to individually handle any difficulty experienced with a suite. A better plan would be to fund and implement a regulation and standards program first – for existing illegal suites, require the necessary implementation and ongoing service costs, initiate a complaints program, and then look to adding more suites.
Change is only a benefit if it’s positive; diversity is only a benefit if standards and livability are maintained. Cities around the world that have increased population, as is now being suggested for Oak Bay, are struggling with the impacts. We basically only have our property taxes to make ends meet. Studies show significant new populations result in soaring infrastructure costs; more car traffic; increased taxation as the revenue generated comes nowhere near covering the increased service levels. Oak Bay residents must get involved and not let this happen to our community.