As council approved an expedited process to revise local area plans, one councillor warned of unreasonable expectations.
“Local area plans are not going to be a panacea,” said Coun. Dean Murdock. Conflicts between developers and citizens in their respective neighbourhoods will be inevitable and local area plans will only go so far to resolve them. “That is the job of this council,” he said. Conflicts between developers and citizens will produce “winners and losers” and no area plan is going to be perfect.
Despite these reservations, Murdock defended the decision. “There is a real sentiment to get on with this fast, and most of council shares that sentiment,” he said. While it is no small undertaking to revise local area plans, many revisions are over-due, he said.
Saanich defines local areas plans as part of the Official Community Plan (OCP) that “provide a policy framework for Council by addressing issues such as land use, transportation, environment, urban design, housing, economic development, parks, climate change, and community amenities.” They focus by definition on individual neighbourhoods and emerge out of “extensive consultation with community members” and help identify “features of the community that are highly valued by citizens, and provides policy on how to protect and enhance them.”
Saanich has committed itself to update its 12 local area plans as per a previous council direction and Monday’s speeds up this process.
“With the recent allocation of additional resources, all 12 [local area plans] could be updated within seven years,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, director of planning.
Council made this decision against the solitary opposition of Mayor Richard Atwell and after hearing from representatives of eight community associations. Their central unanimous tenor: get on with the job and do not re-invent the wheel, because time is tight as Saanich deals with the challenges of growth in a region struggling with housing affordability and environmental sustainability. Revised area plans would help provide the certainty that is often missing, the public heard.
“Yes, it needs updating, but the basics are there,” said Eric Dahli, chair of the Cadboro Bay Residents Association, in comparing local area plans to collective bargaining agreements.
Examples of tensions between abound, but perhaps the most illustrative example of recent years concerns the re-development of Townley Lodge, an affordable housing complex that the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) has run for four decades in the neighbourhood near Camosun College.
While area residents favoured more affordable housing in theory, their practical opposition to the proposed height of re-development forced significant delays upon GVHS and earned council considerable criticism from an unusual coalition of social justice advocates and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Council members challenged this criticism by noting that GVHS failed to secure social license from the residents, who rested their arguments against the proposal mainly but not exclusively on the local area plan.
Mayor Richard Atwell pointed Townley Lodge as an example of how area residents can use local area plans to delay, even derail the necessary densification of Saanich. Local area plans were appropriate tools as Saanich was building suburbs and converting farms. But now is Saanich is literally growing up, rather than out, he said.
“The local area plan is a planning tool, but in its current form, I see it being used a shield against development,” he said. He also questioned the length of the proposed revisions. The proposed time frame of seven years means that the current council would “download” the issue on future councils. “My conscience won’t let me do that,” he said.
Coun. Vicki Sanders acknowledged this time frame, but stressed the importance of local area plans. They are the foundations of Saanich’s neighbourhoods, she said. “Yes, it will take seven years, but the basis is there,” she said.
Coun. Judy Brownoff was absent during Monday’s meeting.