Surrounded by four neighbours around her dining room table, in a home halfway down a quiet cul-de-sac, Margaret Asch slides her index finger across the display on her laptop computer. The neighbours know well the image it displays, depicting a piece of plywood held very close to, and extending far above a fence line. The photo was taken from inside a home across the street, immediately beside the 1940s-era Clive Apartments, which developers would like to replace with a substantially larger, market rental building.
The group listens while Asch explains the purpose of the slab of plywood, intended to demonstrate how close the new building, The Clive, would stand, should the project in its current incarnation gain approval.
“We’re not opposed to a higher-density, new building there,” Asch said. “Some of us are not offended by the existing building and don’t think it’s necessarily out of date – that there are eight affordable rental units that are going to be replaced by market rental units – the point is that it’s an unprecedented process. We have individual perspectives, but on the core issues, we are united in our opposition.”
The core issues: mass, setbacks and parking have remained key concerns for the residents from the time project owners JN Developments first pitched a 23-unit apartment (with 13 parking stalls) until their designer, Cascadia Architects, came back with the current, 19-unit (and 16 parking stall) proposal last month. Regardless of design changes, the group says their views on replacing a two-storey, eight-unit building with a three-storey, 19-unit building which requires setback variances on all sides hasn’t changed – despite previous News coverage suggesting otherwise.
“We decided that we would approach this in a respectful way, but also in a thoughtful way,” said Asch, who along with her husband Michael, has regularly hosted other Clive Drive residents in their home to discuss the development. “I don’t think any of us are interested in strategies meant to inflame and antagonize.”
The group of neighbours has been putting forward their questions to developers following the first of several meetings with JN Developments last fall. Many residents have presented letters to council which largely follow along a similar theme of concern over mass, setbacks and parking.
Wilf Lund lives at the end of the drive and can’t see Clive Apartments from his home, but is far from pleased with the size and design and feels compelled to stand “in solidarity” with the immediate neighbours, while council, he feels, shows more excitement than solid reflection about the development.
“This is not a political process,” Lund said. “This is simply a group of concerned neighbours who got together to do this and our voice wasn’t heard.”
Building owner Nicole Roberts is clear about her intentions to construct market, rather than luxury, rental units – and the limitations that choice presents.
“I’m trying to be the good guy in building a new LEED-certified rental building. It’s not like I’m trying to take it down and build 10 condos,” she said. “The rental aspect really defines the density that’s needed. I appreciate where the neighbourhood is coming from and I think they have had a good voice in where the project is at. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have any more room to give.”
While unable to scale back the massing or add additional parking, Roberts said, she is open to discussion with the community on aspects such as landscape and exterior design.
As for parking, a study of the site, paid for by developers and conducted by transportation engineers Boulevard Transportation Group, determined the current design would require 14 parking stalls, two less than are included in the proposal. The proposal also affords for bike storage and scooter charging stations, as well as a membership to transportation co-op Victoria Car Share for each unit rented.
Roberts’ bottom line: there’s no more room to scale back the size or increase parking any further.
“I’m at the point now where if I give any more, I’ll have to abandon the project altogether and in that case the building will probably get renovated inside and stay the way it is for another 50 years.”
Oak Bay councillor Kevin Murdoch has been witness to the slow-moving proposal for The Clive since the outset of what he called a “pre-public consultation process, consultation process.”
“We’re trying to get a proposal at this point that council feels is close enough that it at least warrants a formal public consultation process,” Murdoch said. “Everybody’s gone into this with the best of intentions and tried to find a way forward that everybody can live with. I think that’s laudable and made the process much less contentious than it would have been otherwise. For all of their good intentions, it’s still a very large building on that small lot. Is it too big? I don’t know, that’s the discussion to have. It’s a big ask.”
Back in the Asch house, Michael Asch asserts he and the others around the table don’t belong to the municipality’s anti-development set.
“We’re not taking that position. We’re taking the position that yes, Oak Bay needs to change, but we need to do it in a reasonable and responsible way and what we’re looking for is an approach that enables us to do that.”
Roberts expects to present at the July 15 committee of the whole meeting with a detailed landscape and water management plan.