In early November, Oak Bay United Church invited 95 of their nearest neighbours to one of four consultation sessions to discuss their proposed affordable housing development and to hear neighbours’ ideas, feedback, and concerns about the project.
“That was a fantastic process. We were really glad to have that engagement and consultation,” said Rev. Michelle Slater.
The feedback was taken back to the architects of the project and who then worked to create a number of scenarios that balanced the feedback from the neighbours with the church’s need to break even in regards to costs and revenue.
Last week, those scenarios were shown to the immediate neighbours in two mid-week meetings. In all of the scenarios presented, the duplex that houses the church office and thrift shop, Gardner Hall, and Threshold House will all be demolished to make way for the development. Slater said the scenarios presented to the neighbours ranged from 80 to 150 units in a four- to five-story building.
“None of them were real designs,” said Slater, “they were being used as more of a tool to provide context. They showed a range of units, different floors, and different parking options.”
Slater said this was to get a second round of feedback from the neighbours before creating actual design concepts.
“We had a number of really innovative ideas (from the neighbours) that the architects are excited to try to work into the new designs coming in January,” said Slater.
Some neighbours feel that their concerns about the size of the development, as well as other issues like traffic and parking, have not been addressed in the consulting and planning process of the project so far. Residents are sharing their concerns through a variety of avenues: many letters to the editor have been placed in Oak Bay News, residents including former-mayor Diana Butler have spoken at council meetings, and a group has been formed called Concerned Citizens Network who created a website to compile information and voice their concerns about the project.
“The mass and the size of the building is just out of proportion to everything else in the neighbourhood,” said Curtis Hobson, immediate neighbor and spokesman for the Concerned Citizens Network.
Speaking to the scenarios presented last week Hobson says, “The lowest was 39 feet high, the other three were 48 feet high, which is significantly larger than any other structure in the neighbourhood, except for the church. Churches are iconic structures and should be large because they serve as a calling point. The apartment block is an apartment block.”
Sometime in January there will be an open house where not just immediate neighbours but the whole Oak Bay community will be invited to test the next iteration of the design.
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