Early in the Oak Bay United Church’s speciously-named ‘neighbourhood outreach program’, to determine what project might suit its land, it became obvious that the program was nothing more than a public relations exercise. Meaningful dialogue was not wanted, as proven by the refusal to address the critical issues of size and density.
As a result, concerned neighbours initiated a Freedom of Information request to find out what had been represented to the BC Housing Commission before $500K of taxpayer money was dished out. It was assumed that all correspondence, applications, etc. would be disclosed. After a long wait, the OBUC’s neighbours recently received a 933 page file from the BCHC. At least 90 per cent of the documentation provided has been censored by either the BCHC or the OBUC.
A critical element of the proposal – the feasibility study – was redacted. In short, the OBUC has received a $500K loan which is forgiven if the project fails to proceed. Taxpayers who have funded that loan are denied access to the basis on which it was granted.
From the outset of this project, the OBUC has engaged in dubious tactics. First it developed a 269 unit proposal for one acre of available land (compared to the Oak Bay apartment building average of 50 units per acre). Instead of meaningful consultation with neighbours, it hired public relations consultants. The discussion has polarized with the OBUC attempting to portray itself as an altruistic benefactor facing off against anti-development neighbours.
It’s time for some leadership by the local government. At the very least, the OBUC should have to engage an arm’s-length mediator, agreed to by both sides. The mediator could help resolve the contentious issues of size and density while seeing that the community standards are not destroyed to benefit a single developer.