Sooke opts into CRD regional growth strategy mediation

Province grants non-binding dispute resolution on Regional Growth Strategy

Sooke will opt into mediation at the Capital Regional District.

With the region at odds over the Regional Growth Strategy, the province agreed to a non-binding dispute resolution process to start by June 14.

The Regional Growth Strategy is a provincially mandated master plan that deals with every aspect of future development – land use, ecosystem preservation, transportation, economic potential, food security and measures to contain urban sprawl.

But although the new strategy was five years in the making, when it was delivered to the region’s 13 municipalities for review, only six were in favour, including Sooke. All municipalities must agree to the document before it can be passed.

“There’s a concern by not participating that we might miss out on some key elements that may impact our municipality,” said Sooke Mayor Maja Tait.

The CRD board and each rejecting municipality – Central Saanich, Colwood, Esquimalt, Highlands, North Saanich, Saanich and View Royal – needs to agree to a mediator and a process. The accepting municipalities of Langford, Oak Bay, Metchosin, Sidney, Sooke and Victoria are affected so have the option to participate. Those wishing to participate, share in the costs of dispute resolution, though all wind up paying through the regional district.

The total mediation cost is estimated at $30,000.

Although Sooke council backs the Regional Growth Strategy and doesn’t need to be part of the mediation, Tait said, it’s important that the municipality is there.

“If things arise then we can properly address them without sacrificing any key elements to our community,” she said.

Most councils that rejected the plan opposed piping water into rural areas because they believe it’s the major driver of urban sprawl.

It’s a sticking point for Mike Hicks, CRD director for Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, who has argued the right to have piped water into the Juan de Fuca, an unincorporated area, for years.

Juan de Fuca will have what Hicks call “special status” in the mediation process. The JdF will be allowed to comment on the outcomes of the mediation, something it couldn’t do previously.

“We’re not a municipality so we didn’t get a vote in the regional growth strategy, but we’re getting special status,” he said. “I feel we’ll have success.”

Hicks predicted that mediation will fail since it will be difficult to get all municipalities onside and that will force the CRD into binding arbitration by the province.

– with files from Christine van Reeuwyk

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