Former North Saanich mayor Alice Finall has some sharp criticism of the district’s Official Community Plan review.
“I’m very concerned about the direction that this community has taken or may take that are not in keeping with the visions that the community has endorsed,” she said.
Finall made those comments in an interview after submitting a critical letter to North Saanich council – focusing on substantive as well as procedural aspects of the review underway since July.
Finall sees an “over-emphasis” on housing and increasing housing when North Saanich’s actual population growth does not justify it. “That’s an undue effort at this stage, when we already have done an enormous amount (for housing),” she said, pointing to past initiatives such as the municipal-wide approval of secondary suites.
“If you look at our place, our role in the regional growth strategy, [housing] is not our function,” she said. “We are really the green space, the lungs for the region. Our role is not to provide more housing or more affordable housing. We have actually managed to do 10 units (of affordable housing). However, we don’t have the land capacity for that.”
About one-third of the municipality lies within the Agricultural Land Reserve, she said. “Another probably 10 per cent at least is rural and is being farmed,” she said. “And that is really our main focus. If you look at the regional growth strategy, we are still outside the Urban Containment Boundary, the whole community is.”
Finall also questions why “developers, who represent an industry with a strong vested interest” find themselves represented on the body tasked with providing feedback to municipal staff and consultants. “The consultants and the municipal planners have the necessary expertise to address these aspects,” she said in the letter.
Finally said it is “certainly a concern” that developers might end up having too much influence with no other industry receiving such specific recognition.
She also later said that it would be a “very reasonable inference” to see a connection between the apparent push for more housing and the composition of the advisory working group.
When asked for additional detail later, Finall pointed to correspondence that she had received from the municipality’s consultant after she had unsuccessfully applied to sit on the group.
Finall’s letter also calls on the municipality to open the meetings of the group to the public, citing provisions of the Community Charter, and share more information about its membership.
North Saanich Residents Association also expressed concerns about transparency in demanding that the meetings of the group should be open to the public.
Finall and the municipality have had prior correspondence over these issues. Staff told Finall earlier this year that a more “informal” advisory working group as opposed to a more traditional OCP review committee would be “one method of engagement” to “obtain meaningful input and advice” from the community.
“This approach was endorsed by (council) and staff believe the AWG is in accordance with the Community Charter,” reads a letter from staff dated Nov. 6. That letter also notes that staff will “publish minutes of the meetings and post them on the project’s webpage to ensure a transparent process.”
That letter also pushed back against Finall’s concerns about including a group (developers) with a “strong vested interest.”
Any number of groups could make the same claim, the letter said. “For example a farmer with a strong vested interest in agriculture in North Saanich could also be seen to have a vested interest,” it read, pointing to the need for a “diversity of voices.”
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