This survey was developed by residents of the planned Heritage Conservation Area (HCA), The Prospect, and asked candidates four questions:
- their top heritage priority
- how they would reconcile conflicts between heritage protection and infill opportunities
- their position on community contributions from developers
- how they would balance development against preserving natural environments, heritage structures and character neighbourhoods.
Nine of the ten candidates for the six council positions responded (we did not receive a response from Isabella Lee) and both candidates for mayor responded. Their full answers are reported below as submitted by the candidates for the 2018 Oak Bay municipal election.
What is the single action that would encourage heritage preservation?
Andrew Appleton: I think the District could be doing much more to incentivize the retention of older houses. A large number of residents have related to me their challenges in getting permits to renovate or update their older home, or add features to improve their livability. Clearly, if the process of renovating an older home is more difficult than demolishing and building new, then the latter option will be seen to be preferable – and we are seeing numerous examples of this happening in our community. We need to streamline and simplify permits for upgrades to older homes, provide homeowners with resources that help them navigate the process and clear up the backlog of permit reviews so that people who are interested in updating their older home can do so in an easier, quicker fashion. I believe Oak Bay can be an innovator in providing tools and support to retain our character homes.
Hazel Braithwaite: It’s hard to say one specific thing; however we should celebrate our astounding heritage assets and educate ourselves to help enhance the citizen awareness for such quality resources. We would do this through public events, selective zoning and other initiatives like promoting additional heritage conservation areas throughout our municipality.
Anton Brakhage: I think that the most important thing is for council and municipal government need to be more consistent in following their own policies on development, and in consulting with the public in a fair, thorough, and transparent manner before making any decisions. A decision to hold regular town hall meetings, as discussed in the last candidates event, would be a good first step in addressing heritage preservation and many other issues.
Cairine Green: Proactive Leadership, from this Council and the next and beyond — approve the current HCA proposal currently in progress through a task group. Expedite this process so that Oak Bay can be a leader in heritage conservation. I want this proposal approved and adopted before the end of this calendar year and if elected, I will actively advocate to achieve this goal. Once the Prospect HCA is approved, it sets a precedent for bringing forward for consideration, other established neighbourhoods that have heritage and older significant homes and landscapes. Oak Bay’s heritage and historical fabric must be retained and strengthened.
Nils Jensen: Completing the ground-breaking Prospect Heritage Conservation Area (HCA). The Prospect HCA will create a model for heritage protection. I applaud the citizens who have taken the leadership to propose the area and orchestrate a public education campaign to help all Oak Bay residents understand the significance of the plan.
In addition, we need to create a more fertile environment that will encourage voluntary heritage designations as this path removes an adversarial approach that hinders the wider goals of heritage preservation across Oak Bay. Coupled with this, I support programs that help homeowners to take advantage of Heritage Revitalization Agreements for projects such as conversions.
Kevin Murdoch: Heritage protection, and the broader consideration of community character, needs to be built into the decision making process both at the staff and Council levels. Given the small municipal staff and voluntary nature of the Heritage Commission and Foundation, it will require a better relationship and clarity of roles to see decisions being made with the heritage expertise included. Allowing for building applications to be processed in parallel (staff consideration and heritage consideration happening at the same time) to speed up heritage-related applications is a simple example of how to make heritage more attractive. If the upcoming Heritage Conservation Area is seen as a success, it should encourage others to seek similar heritage protections.
Tara Ney: Make the entire community an HCA. Since that is unlikely to happen I would continue to promote and streamline application processes for heritage conversions, especially in the infill areas.
Esther Paterson: My experience has been primarily with heritage commercial buildings and parks. The most important factor was ensuring that historic preservation was included in comprehensive planning for development and growth. Important issues: identity, mass and funding.
Andrew Stinson: We should not be focused on taking a single action to preserve heritage, because it will take a multifaceted approach to to encourage heritage preservation. Education on the value of registering and designating homes is key, as well as the importance of heritage homes to the community at large, but legislative tools are needed as well. We need to be innovative with our use of Heritage Revitalization Agreements (HRA) when looking to preserve single homes. Finally, by approving Oak Bay’s first Heritage Conservation Area (HCA), it can be used as a model for other neighbourhoods throughout the municipality.
Ronald Telfer: Rip out the curtain of secrecy at City Hall and allow interested parties to view applications in detail, before and after council’s decision, that all interested parties may view and compare what is made available on site to that held in secrecy at City Hall.
Eric Wood Zhelka: Extend Heritage Conservation Areas to other neighbourhoods in Oak Bay that are under threat.
In conflicts between heritage protection and infill opportunities, where would your priorities lie?
Andrew Appleton: I’m not sure these things need to be in conflict, if we plan effectively. Firstly, I believe we can accommodate a significant amount of infill housing needs by looking to our village centres. I believe that done correctly, regulations for secondary suites can encourage the retention and updating of older houses. Secondly, Heritage Revitalization Agreements can be a useful way to create more dwellings while encouraging the retention of heritage buildings, but must be done with clear and consistent guidelines. In short, I think council should be working towards the ideal of planning infill (primarily through an updated zoning bylaw) in a way that avoids conflict with heritage buildings.
Hazel Braithwaite: Not every juxtaposition of those two interests leads to a conflict, but in cases where a conflict does arise, we need to remember the special residential quality that makes Oak Bay, Oak Bay. So – I think it’s a balance and in most cases the decision has to be made based on the evidence presented, the OCP and hopefully a properly enforced housing strategy. My ambition would be that we could protect the parts of our community that mean the most to us while still embracing thoughtful change.
Anton Brakhage: It would depend on the specific circumstances, but in general, I would prioritize heritage protection, except where development is necessary to address some critical shortage in the municipality, such as the lack of affordable housing. In all cases, development should be undertaken only after honest and transparent consultation with the public, and efforts should be made to protect properties with a heritage designation, and to minimize damage to Oak Bay’s natural environment, plant, and animal life.
Cairine Green: There are planning tools that can successfully blend heritage and new infill so that neither is mutually exclusive. My priorities lie with using a “heritage lens” in established neighbourhoods for all new development and re-development. For example, Heritage Revitalization Agreements are effective in retaining what is of heritage and historical value to the community while enabling new infill that complements heritage conservation. Another initiative is to substantially expand Oak Bay’s Heritage Register, a goal that the Heritage Commission has long tried to achieve. 78.5% of respondents to the Official Community Plan survey of 2013/2014 identified heritage conservation and preservation as top priorities and fundamental community values; heritage conservation should be integrated with all land use practices and Oak Bay’s Planning department should seek heritage training for its planning staff.
Nils Jensen: Oak Bay needs more housing options so that families and seniors can continue to live here and ensure that it remains a community with a healthy demographic. We need to support appropriate infill opportunities while ensuring that we pay heed to our heritage. Both are valuable for our community to thrive and maintain the features we cherish.
Kevin Murdoch: I see heritage as a key to infill. There is so much value in our built heritage that we are right to encourage its retention by prioritizing character conversions and creating a framework for adding square footage for heritage houses. The key aspect of this process is designation, so the heritage homes are protected in perpetuity as part of the agreement. Where possible, I prefer to see these structures built into our bylaw regulations to make them clear, equal, and fast to apply, rather than relying on a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) process for each development: the HRA is a process that adds to the time and cost of development, and as a spot-zoning measure can have very uneven results.
Tara Ney: I would encourage heritage conversions as part of an infill strategy. This way heritage protection and infill objectives can be met simultaneously. Win-win.
Esther Paterson: The OCP identified that residents are strongly committed to preserving the character of the community; I will consider protection of heritage in all forms (built and natural) as key objective in a Housing Plan and Bylaws.
Andrew Stinson: I believe that heritage protection and infill opportunities can be balanced in such a way to get both. Through an HRA, infill could be achieved in such a way that protects the identified heritage features of the designated property. One of the key features of an HCA is not to stop all infill, but to guide both developers and council as to what infill would be appropriate for the protected neighbourhood. It would be my goal if elected to council to work with the community using these tools to strike that balance between the two when the opportunity presents itself.
Ronald Telfer: When does this situation truly occur?
Eric Wood Zhelka: In Oak Bay, streetscapes & trees are very important. How about we put any infill requested by a homeowner in the back, away from the street, assuming there is room.
What is your position on community contributions from developers asking for rezoning or major variances?
Andrew Appleton: Oak Bay needs to immediately put in place a Development Cost Charge bylaw to account for the incremental demand placed by new development on existing infrastructure. In addition, we absolutely need to implement guidelines on Community Amenity Contributions for significant developments. New development that would require a rezoning or a major variance would likely be of a scale that would require both of these charges, and I support having new developments contribute both to necessary community amenities and infrastructure needs.
Hazel Braithwaite: Sadly, right now we don’t have a policy around this although staff have been looking into it. I would like to see this addressed early in the new council’s term. We should look to other municipalities to see what they have implemented and use the best practices for our community contribution policy. In my opinion, there is no reason why we should not be asking developers for contributions.
Anton Brakhage: Community contributions by developers can be of great benefit to the community, and help offset any negative effects of development. However, I am concerned that community contributions from developers can also provide an incentive to make decisions in favour of developers that are not ultimately in the best interests of the municipality. I think this is an area where careful consideration is necessary.
Cairine Green: It’s hard to believe that the Municipality of Oak Bay has never implemented development cost charges for all major developments. I understand that this type of policy is now a work in progress for planning staff, however, it should be expedited, completed and adopted as soon as possible. Oak Bay is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in community benefits and amenities provided by developers who are building major projects, especially multi-family projects. Development cost charges should be simply the “cost of doing business” in Oak Bay; funding/amenities for infrastructure, parks, public art, a housing fund or other community benefits should be negotiated and implemented as part of every larger development application. Wherever possible, neighbourhood/community consultation should be part of each development process to provide residents with opportunities to identify what benefits/amenities would be most meaningful and have the greatest positive impact.
Nils Jensen: Rezoning or major variances are not something that should be able to be “purchased”. A request for rezoning or major variance should first include meaningful consultation with neighbours and the general community to ensure that the changes could fit with longer range planning goals. Then, if it is determined that the change is something that fits the neighborhood, or wider community, then and only then should discussions begin with the developer around the potential for an appropriate and long- lasting contribution.
Kevin Murdoch: Community contributions should form part of all density-increasing developments. For multi-family developments I see value in a “sliding scale” development model where “normal” and “maximum” scale of buildings are clearly defined. For developments that build to a “normal” scale already determined to be acceptable to the community and codified in the zoning, the application can be improved in weeks. In the sliding scale between that and the maximum allowed, a community input process is undertaken similar to a rezoning process to control massing and design, and additional contributions are required from the developer. In the “large villages” of the City of Victoria, for example, developers are required to provide 75% of the net incremental value (gained by the larger size) back to the community.
Tara Ney: I support the negotiation of a community amenity contribution as part of all rezoning process.
Esther Paterson: Contributions should be proportional to the requested variance. We need to improve data collection to be able to compare requested variance or rezoning benefits against meeting or limiting future goals outlined in the OCP. Many communities create prioritized lists of projects/goals, with details on estimated costs and benefits to the community. Often it is more palatable for the developer to contribute to a defined goal i.e. addition to community club or building, or refurbishment of a public space, rather than to simply contribute funds to a reserve account. Contributing to ‘shared goal’ provides added value for the developer in terms of recognition and marketing.
Andrew Stinson: An important job for the next council is going to be setting out a Community Amenity Contributions (CAC) policy. We need to identify which community amenities are most needed by the community, and the amount that we would expect to have contributed from developers. Having this policy is necessary to ensure that developers don’t offer amenities that are not wanted or needed from the community, and to give council guidance on what is reasonable during a major rezoning process.
Ronald Telfer: What contributions?
Eric Wood Zhelka: This is critical as one way to keep our taxes low and to maintain a win-win compromise.
How will you balance development against the need to preserve natural environments, heritage structures, and character neighborhoods?
Andrew Appleton: I have been clear in my platform that development should not come at the expense of the natural environment, and this is a top priority for me. I want to implement stronger guidelines in both the building and tree protection bylaws to stop the clearing of lots before municipal permits are issued, and to ensure more trees are retained during new development. I also want to see much stronger guidelines in our shoreline protection development permit area. As mentioned above, I believe that our goal should be the orientation of new development such that it avoids conflict with heritage structures wherever possible. And also as mentioned above, I believe that retaining a neighbourhood’s character has much to do with incentivizing the retention of existing houses, and I would like to see the District take action to create an innovative process that supports retention.
Hazel Braithwaite: Oak Bay has a very special residential quality that makes our municipality a sought after place to live. This has not occurred by accident and while we should work hard to ensure the preservation of our heritage and environment, we also need to embrace thoughtful change that will keep our community desirable. Finding the balance will not be easy, but it can be done. Heritage conversions are one way, offering benefits for heritage designations is another.
Anton Brakhage: I think that we need to ask whether a given development proposal is one that is beneficial or necessary for the health of the municipality as a whole, or whether its primary purpose is simply to profit the few at the expense of the community. For example, I would tend to look more favourably on development that would lead to more affordable housing or transportation options, or to provide more options for young people in Oak Bay, than on the never-ending subdivision of properties simply to cram more large, expensive houses onto the same amount of land. I believe that heritage structures and properties should be given the utmost protection from development, and that we should place a high priority on protecting the natural environment that gives our municipality so much of its beauty and charm.
Cairine Green: This is always a challenge for communities that have unique character such as Oak Bay. But I know that sound planning, in consultation with neighbourhoods and communities is fundamental to achieving balance. I propose a new standard or model for neighbourhood consultation, required of every developer so that residents of established neighbourhoods feel included and respected going forward. Consideration of street scapes, green spaces, natural habitats and significant landmarks must form part of every development application and approval. Without the support of neighbourhoods, we often see fractious relationships, a lack of support and trust and a contentious situation that pits neighbourhoods against developers. I will work for: design guidelines in Oak Bay, beyond the Uplands Advisory Design Panel process; reinstatement of an environmental advisory body (a Commission) that will work together with the Heritage Commission and the Advisory Planning Commission, to ensure that natural/heritage/character environments are assessed and protected ahead of any significant development; and, a more proactive public education process on how development and preservation/conservation can be encouraged and achieved. Sensitive planning is key.
Nils Jensen: Balance is the imperative word here. Oak Bay, like all communities, needs to have measured and healthy growth to sustain the services and infrastructure that we value and need. But development does not have to be at the expense of high-valued heritage structures, the ruin of the natural environments we cherish, or changing the character of neighborhoods. New multi-family developments should be confined to commercial nodes and main thoroughfares and we need to encourage smaller homes that are orientated to seniors. I also support tougher tree protection bylaws that will require planting of trees lost to development. Preserving our natural environment and character of neighborhoods shaped by our gardens, also demands that we continue to pursue ways to reduce the deer population.
Kevin Murdoch: This balance is best done through regulation. Improvements to the tree bylaw for example could include no trees cut until the building permit is issued, replacement of all trees removed even if in the building footprint, and extra protection for significant trees strong enough to force change of design to retain. Changes to the zoning can create a smaller floor area for new builds than older homes to give incentive to retain. Adding new Heritage Conservation Areas in future may also help create development that values the heritage of the neighbourhoods in new development.
Tara Ney: Development that contributes to expanding our housing options is a priority. If we use a lens that values the protection of natural environments, heritage structures and established neighborhood, then good decisions will be had.
Esther Paterson: We need a Housing Plan, Zoning and Bylaws. Protecting the environment and character of the community means managing, not preventing development. Living in a rare and endangered ecosystem comes with responsibility for encouraging sensitive development. Protection of the urban forest is the best tool for harmonizing new development and mature neighbourhoods. The only practical solution to protect HCA and HRA neighborhoods is by establishing design controls for new development or renovations to existing buildings. That still leaves opportunity to look at new forms of housing in areas where residents are receptive to change. It all starts with a Housing Plan.
Andrew Stinson: This is the difficult balance that Oak Bay will face in the coming years. I believe we need to protect our urban forests, and that’s why I support strengthening the tree bylaw to encourage homes to respect our natural environment. Looking towards heritage structures and character neighbourhoods, this is where HRAs and HCAs come in, as council has little power to protect important buildings that aren’t designated or protected in some fashion. I support the creation of infill guidelines, as well as legalizing secondary suites, though we need to be considerate of heritage resources when approving specific projects.
Ronald Telfer: Review each application in detail as per answer to question #1.
Eric Wood Zhelka: I have been and will continue to encourage those who hold such special and unique properties in our community to have them registered and preferrably designated. HCAs will help as well to plan for this preservation.