Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan — Why Mediocre?

Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan (O.C.P.) – why “mediocre”?

I have expressed the view that the current Official Community Plan (O.C.P.) for Oak Bay is ‘mediocre’ (of only moderate quality; not very good). An explanation is in order.

1. The O.C.P. is only superficially forward-looking, and with a narrow focus.

“An Official Community Plan represents a community’s vision for the future and it provides a framework to guide growth and decisions about the use and management of land and water resources in the municipality. The OCP describes how and where residential. commercial and other types of development will occur; it guides the provision of necessary road, water, sewer and other infrastructure; and it provides policies concerning environmental, economic and community health and well-being.” (p.2)

“In British Columbia, the requirements of an OCP are defined by the Local Government Act.” (p.2) The provincial legislation sets minimum requirements, but the O.C.P. need not be restricted to meeting the requirements of the legislation. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a good O.C.P. that doesn’t go beyond the minimal requirements of the provincial legislation, to consider the revenue and expenditure requirements of the District as a critical constraint on determining the mix of assessment, what this means for the required growth of the assessment base, and the impact of infrastructure renewal on the necessary mill rate given the assessment.

Again, as the O.C.P. itself states, “While ten years is the primary planning time frame for the OCP, many of the goals, objectives and policies have broader implications for a much longer term.” (p.3) That may be the primary planning time frame, but a good O.C.P. will have a 20 – 25 year outlook.

Such a statement and thoughtful consideration both suggest that an O.C.P. should be forward looking and disciplined, wide-ranging, and imaginative in its consideration of the future of the community.

Oak Bay’s O.C.P. was developed with reference to the recent past. (“This OCP draws extensively from 2011 census data and community engagement conducted in 2013 and 2014.” p.3) There was no concerted ‘looking ahead’ 10 or 20 years.

Particularly, the was no thoughtful consideration of the ‘ecology’ within which Oak Bay lives – that is, greater Victoria. Yet, Oak Bay is essentially incapable of resisting the realities, the dynamics and the trajectory of Greater Victoria.

As only one example, there is very substantial pressure for a significant population increase in Greater Victoria. There is an almost inexhaustible supply of retirees with the means to live in a high cost housing market. There is a corresponding need for housing for those who are (still) working, including government employees, private sector employees, military personnel, and students. Oak Bay’s O.C.P. indicates that a year-over-year population increase in the District of 90 people, more or less is desirable. That small a population increase can only be sustained at the cost of ever more rapidly escalating prices for home and property in Oak Bay, which will benefit current home/property owners dramatically and also rarify the socio-economic characteristics of Oak Bay, dramatically.

Shortfall #1 – the Oak Bay O.C.P. should be more aware of the future and it substantially neglected the future.

2. A community’s ability to move ahead is substantially influenced by its readiness, and its ability to be agile.

Oak Bay is neither ready for the future, nor able to be agile, and the O.C.P. did not explore, let alone highlight, these serious limiting factors.

At the time the O.C.P. was prepared, the District did not have complete, current, and accurate information about its infra-structure deficit. (Some of the relevant information is still not available.) This lack of necessary information was (is) the result of many years of political decisions to turn a blind eye. The O.C.P. either chose to avoid highlighting the pending cost of many years of political neglect or the authors of the O.C.P. were unaware of the implications of failing to deal with the issue.

Citizens were surveyed and citizen engagement was further encouraged with public meetings. Yet there was no prior distribution of information about:
o the condition of infrastructure and the infrastructure deficit;
o the changing socio-demographic profile of the community over 25 – 40 years and the trajectory going forward;
o the widening gulf between home prices in Oak Bay and average family income in greater Victoria; and,
o more.
Consequently, citizens participated on the basis of personal experience, anecdotal evidence and established biases, rather than current and comprehensive information. Citizen engagement was superficial because it was not grounded in good, current and reasonably comprehensive information.

Oak Bay faces an infrastructure deficit of more than $200Million. The O.C.P. did not flag the likelihood of major tax increases being necessary unless the revenue base increases dramatically. The O.C.P. did not offer anything significant in the way of meeting the upcoming need for major additions to revenue for the District.

The deficit that has been identified does not include any projected cost to harden infrastructure in the face of more violent and more frequent weather events. Nor does it include the cost of new infrastructure that may be cost effective and desired by citizens in the future. Nor does it include the cost of modifying infrastructure in response to changing demographics or social expectations.

Shortfall #2 – the Oak Bay O.C.P. did not reference the absence of vital information necessary to project readiness and the ability to be agile.

3. The minimal requirements of provincial legislation should not deter a community from developing a fulsome plan.

The community, after all, is much more than land use, and infrastructure. A community’s plan should declare values, lay out priorities, and say ‘yes’ to some courses of action and goals while saying ‘no’ to others.

The Oak Bay O.C.P. is essentially an instrumental document. The greater part of the document provides detail about means and tolls. In terms of values, priorities, and decisions that are turning points, the O.C.P. can be read to suggest all things to all people.

“Oak Bay is a vibrant and safe community”. “Oak Bay is a dynamic community.” “Oak Bay is a community that values and supports diversity.”

Thirteen goals are laid out, without any suggestion as to priorities or resolving conflicts when one goal gets in the way of another.

The broad objectives and the broad polities laid out in the O.C.P. are naive and of little help to politicians, as the last four years have demonstrated.

“1.6.1 Broad Objectives
The broad objectives of the OCP are as follows:
1. Consider increases in density while respecting the values that make Oak Bay an attractive and environmentally rich community.
2. Follow the existing patterns of land use in general, considering some expansions of higher density uses in areas set out in this plan.
3. Support limited and well managed increases in commercial use to support the needs of residents and visitors to the community.
4. Plan for well managed growth that adapts to changing population characteristics and lifestyles.

“1.6.2 Broad Policies
The broad policies of the OCP are as follows:
BP1. Encourage modest population growth, anticipating an annual growth rate up to 0.5 percent, with the recognition that actual growth fluctuates over time and is based on many external factors.
A 0.5 percent annual growth would mean about 90 new residents or 36 new housing units per year.
BP2. Consider infill development as a tool for allowing more density to fit within neighbourhoods while respecting and conserving neighbourhood character.
BP3. Accommodate future growth, in general, in areas that are already developed in order to retain Oak Bay’s natural environment, parks and open space.
BP4. Encourage mixed use development, integrating commercial and residential uses, in villages and other commercial areas to increase the vibrancy and economic vitality of these areas.
BP5. Implement design guidelines, within Development Permit Areas for form and character, to provide more guidance to new development.”

To “consider” or “to follow the existing patterns” or to “support limited and well managed increases”, or to “plan for well managed growth” are not responsive to the imperatives that face Oak Bay. They are not very high level objectives for a community in our circumstance.

Shortfall #3 – the Oak Bay O.C.P. lacks the courage to inflect our trajectory in a meaningful way. More of the same is going to dictate that Oak Bay will go through a period of ever more obvious genteel poverty (except in the Uplands) followed by the District’s re-emergence as an upscale gated community throughout – more economically rarified and less like the Oak Bay of 2014 or 1994 or 1974. But current homeowners will certainly reap the benefits of having gated the community.

1 Comment

  1. Hi David. While I have no disagreement with your observations in general I tend to think Oak Bay’s OCP of 2014 is very useful and relevant; if only Council would give it the importance it deserves. Too often Council votes against its own OCP and in favour of neighbourhood views and preferences which tend to support no change and the status quo. Big mistake!

    ‘The Quest’ application at 2326 Oak Bay Avenue is a recent example. A four storey 14 unit condominium extraordinarily consistent with the OCP which over achieves in all of the policy areas. Good city planning no question! An impressive design by award winning Cascadia Architecture, over 200 letters and emails of support (way more than the neighbours opposing), with the option to retain or replace the large old garry oak tree next door, with a voluntary community amenity contribution, providing attainable/affordable housing for those Oak Bay residents who wish to downsize and stay in their neighbourhood and on and on and on.

    On November 20, 2017 Council unanimously turned down the application. Here’s the problem. Whenever council votes against its own OCP it confuses the investment community; those guys that do stuff and build tax base assessment in your neighbourhood. Its that new tax base assessment which allows Council to be economically sustainable at city hall and which helps offset and soften the almost inevitable tax increases Oak Bay will be experiencing every year.

    Wait for the big one though. When Council finally decides to do something about the decrepit underground infrastructure, $200M worth, that’s when the tax payer will be clobbered with a big ‘kick in the arse’ tax bill. Approving ‘The Quest’ would have increased the tax base assessment on the property ten fold. No small change there which would have softened the kick!

    There is a symbiotic relationship between growth and development, good city planning proposals, the OCP and economic sustainability at city hall. Council and the neighbours ignore that at their peril!

    Council need to take seriously its obligation to implement its OCP, to accept its share of regional growth, meager as it is at 95 persons/ 35 units per year more or less, and to approve new tax base assessment consistent with the OCP; whether the neighbours want it or not.

    I like the OCP. But if I were tasked with rewriting it I would make clearer the policies for densification, infill and secondary suites as it relates to affordable and attainable housing. And I would spend a lot more time on policies that make the community sustainable; socially, economically and environmentally. And you don’t need a whole lot of trend analysis and data to justify the policy. Its simply the right thing to do in 2018. Ciao for now.

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