At a breakfast event held by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Peninsula mayors spoke about last year’s highlights, their goals for the future and how they might better appeal to businesses. Mayors answered questions from the moderator and audience on a variety of issues.
To start, MLA Adam Olsen encouraged business owners to tell him how the new employer health tax introduced by the province will affect their businesses.
Steve Price, mayor of Sidney, began by praising the speed and efficiency of the Town of Sidney’s planning staff, because “without them, we wouldn’t be having the six or seven-week building permit turnarounds.” Densifying the core continued to be a priority for Price, which he circled back to later in the event.
Like Sidney, Central Saanich is slated to update their Official Community Plan next year — a document outlining, in broad terms, the priorities and vision of the community for the next 25 years. Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor mentioned access to and from the Pat Bay Highway as “an age-old issue,” and praised Butchart Gardens, who he said had been “fairly low key” about environmental improvement projects in their area — including operating a pump out boat and cleaning up the surrounding waters. Reflecting its agricultural roots, Windsor said large drainage projects would be a priority. He reminded participants there is a March 15 public consultation on the future of Saanichton Village, held at the Log Cabin Museum from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall highlighted last year’s municipal hall renovation, with new solar panels and a battery bank to power the emergency operations centre. The Jubilee Park playground with its airplane play structure and four new pickleball courts at Wain Park were also a highlight of 2017, as was the sale of the the Dunsmuir Lodge lands (the central portion with the buildings to Homewood Health and the east and west portions to the Pauquachin First Nation). The future of Sandown continues to be a priority.
On the issue of transit improvements to Victoria International Airport, Finall said until BC Transit buses are better equipped for luggage, it’s unlikely. Price was in favour of more bus service to the airport, and Windsor was hoping to see more electric car charging stations.
When asked how they planned to tackle affordable housing, Finall was pleased to see “almost 100 units of affordable housing” in North Saanich, and said non-market housing was needed the most. She said about 45 per cent of residents cannot afford the high-end buildings that make up most new construction. They are moving towards an affordable housing policy which should be in place by the end of this term.
Price said a 56-unit building is under way in Sidney, and two more will go up soon. He acknowledged densification of Sidney’s core was controversial, “even though it’s been in the OCP and land advisory plan for 20 years,” which he said was “kind of backwards thinking.”
“We need those extra people in the core to keep the businesses sustainable for the whole year, not just in the summer months when the tourists come,” said Price.
He also said some developments are higher end, but it frees up lower-end housing for others moving up.
Windsor said in the past, 90 per cent of development was single-family detached homes, which is the least attainable. A shift to multi-family residential developments is reflected in the Marigold Lands development, which Windsor said was a positive experience from the side of council.
On economic strategies, Finall said the North Saanich Flavour Trails have awakened regional interest in agricultural economic development, which has overtaken forestry as an important economic driver. She said money earned from agriculture stays in the community, leading to additional jobs and earning power (the multiplier effect).
Price said Sidney’s council had a “fabulous working relationship” with the Sidney Business Improvement Area, and said “no other council has done as much to support business and we want to continue doing that.”
The mayors had no strong position on amalgamation and looked to the province for more direction. Windsor said the province did a study (the Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative, or CISGI), and that with other NDP priorities, amalgamation studies did not seem to be a provincial priority. Finall pointed out that CISGI was focused on more efficient service delivery only (emergency services, for example) rather than combining entire municipalities.
When asked about the foreign buyers’ tax on real estate, which has expanded into the CRD, Windsor said about four per cent of buyers were foreign in Central Saanich, and he said he was told it would only become a problem if it increased to 10 per cent.