Oak Bay Neighbourhood News

Revolutionary vision for Oak Bay village

Bill Smith holds his dream plan of Oak Bay Square on his phone. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Bill Smith holds his dream plan of Oak Bay Square on his phone.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

Oak Bay astronomy enthusiast Bill Smith is known for setting his eyes to the sky.

But lately, the retired mathematician and software developer has focused his sight on Oak Bay Village, where for years he has envisioned a public square.

Since November, he has been communicating his vision to Rupert Slight, a young, Vancouver-born, British-educated architect who has produced a number of renderings.

One rendering shows two squares on the south part of Oak Bay Avenue, divided by Hampshire Road and lined with a perimeter of Tudor-style office and residential buildings from the present municipal hall to Monterey Avenue. Noticeably absent from the renderings are all of the current buildings, including municipal hall, Athlone Court, the Bell Block building and Monterey Recreation Centre. Smith said most of these buildings should be replaced anyway.

“The municipal buildings have serious problems with earthquake readiness (and the other buildings) would have serious problems if any kind of earthquake hit,” Smith said. “This is a vision of how Oak Bay might look like, might grow in the next 50 years.”

Smith has no ownership in any of the properties and he is aware some buildings have significant community and heritage value, and would be torn down for his vision to become reality. The idea for a public square came from both his travels and being raised in the United Kingdom, where many towns and cities have large, open areas where people gather to have meals, drinks, hang out, or attend special events.

The square in Chester, England was used as a template in the renderings. The five-storey buildings around his proposed squares would house a new municipal hall, restaurants, retail stores and perhaps a new Monterey Recreation Centre.

There would also be a mixture of high-end residences and affordable apartments for families and seniors.

“We can create something so different and so unique,” Smith said.

He also shared his vision with Mayor Nils Jensen.

“It’s a big, bold vision with so many aspects to it and it takes a while to digest,” Jensen said. “It’s certainly something people will have a strong opinion about, one way or another.”

Jensen said he likes the village the way it is. He said Smith’s dream is too big of a change for Oak Bay residents at this time.

“The way our village is currently structured, I think is one of the key aspects of why people love Oak Bay and why people outside Oak Bay are attracted to Oak Bay,” Jensen said. “This is not to say that if it looks different people won’t enjoy it, but it works very well right now.”

Smith knows what he’s up against.

“Every time I mention it to someone they would ridicule it, say that it’s impossible,” Smith said. “I spoke to a developer and he said a person who is the key developer would need to put some serious money on the table otherwise no one else will take it seriously.”

Now that his Oak Bay Square vision has been drawn and made public, he plans to raise money through crowdsourcing to conduct a feasibility study.

“Imagine coming to Oak Bay in 2050 and seeing this,” Smith said. “This is not revolutionary but an evolutionary design.”

The renderings can be seen here.

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