Esquimalt’s Growing Pains
-OCP is officially amended to allow for increased building heights & density
It was a long and (at times) convoluted road of delays, debate, and confusion. After a year in the making, the rough ride finally achieved closure last night as Council resolved to amend the Official Community Plan (OCP) to increase building heights from the current 10-storey limit to 12 storeys. In addition, the allowable lot coverage of a project, referred to as floor area ratio, was also increased, allowing for slightly greater footprints of buildings on a given parcel of land.
The decision was not unanimous. Mayor Barb Desjardins and Councillor Don Linge voted against the changes. Councillor Linge stated that we set out as a community to identify strategies for attracting new development, growth, and revitalization, but that these changes do nothing to support that goal. He argued that we have achieved nothing for our efforts, but have lost the ability to get density bonusing amenities for developments between 10 and 12 storeys as well as not gaining the flexibility to look at projects that exceed 12 storeys.
“I don’t think it is a good solution,” said Linge. “We owe it to the public to be more flexible with the OCP.” Without flexibility, Linge warns that we will not achieve greater densities, local businesses will continue to move away, and residents will be burdened with higher taxes as new revenue never materializes. “I do not see us moving forward by simply substituting one number with another,” adds Linge.
Mayor Desjardins echoed Linge’s view. In a veiled reference to the Legion Tower 17-storey proposal, Desjardins questioned the new OCP’s ability to “allow us to do good planning…it does not allow us to look at if a project is the best thing for the community and whether (a project site) is the best place for a certain kind of development.”
The majority of Council disagreed. Councillor Randall Garrison chastised the Mayor for her comments by countering that “if having a number is supposedly bad planning, then having no number would be a developer’s heaven.”
Councillor Meagan Brame warned that a more “flexible” OCP could expose Esquimalt to legal challenges from developers if the community decides not to approve a project. “If we don’t put height limits within the OCP, then we could get whatever height a developer wants…that’s my concern.”
It was left to Councillor Alison Gaul, the mover of the motion, to call for closure. In a passionate address, she called on Council to respect the views of the community. She reinforced that Esquimalt residents have indicated they want growth to be carefully managed and controlled. “This is the number that the public has told Council they are willing to accept,” stated Gaul. “The public has asked us to listen to them and we are listening.”
Councillor Lynda Hundleby summed it up best before casting her vote in favour of the OCP changes. “Time will tell if we made the right decision or not,” concluded Hundleby.