Former mayor Alice Finall praised North Saanich’s decision to push key decisions around that community’s controversial review of its Official Community Plan into 2022.
“That was a very wise move by council and it is certainly beginning to show a recognition of the community’s concerns that have been expressed by hundreds of people – it’s not a small, vocal minority,” she said. “The small vocal minority are those who say that we must push ahead and build much, much more.”
On Dec. 6 council voted not to fund – at least for now – the ongoing review of the OCP as recommended by staff. Councillors also declined to schedule the next phase of public engagement, instead asking staff to advance work on a draft OCP that excluded housing and affordability.
Staff will explore a separate engagement process around those issues and report back with a revised engagement work plan for the next phase of the review and budget.
“I think they are in a state of indecision,” Finall said, asked whether council’s recent move represents a prelude to pausing the process. “But I think the course they took on (Dec. 6) may assist that.”
Both the consulting company and staff voiced concerns last week about council’s willingness to separate housing and affordability from the larger review process for the time being.
Robert Barrs, principal of MODUS Planning, Design and Engagement, said it is possible to make some progress if the processes are separated, then brought together again.
“We can kind of get about 50 per cent of the work done without a land-use housing focus, and there is some merit doing that for the reasons that you have stated and others have as well,” he said. “But it is going to feel like a partial job.”
Brian Green, North Saanich’s director of planning and community services, warned that treating housing in isolation could further divide the community, having said earlier that housing and affordability are linked to all other issues in the review.
MODUS senior planner Patrick Oystryk had previously argued that the current OCP is broadly silent on climate change. Engagement efforts have revealed a strong community desire to address the issue, he said, adding there is also significant support for new development in strategic locations well-supported by such elements as transit.
One such location is the McTavish Road area, he said.
“With a defined growth containment boundary and strong policies for what can be built within it, we can assure that the McTavish area becomes a well-designed village centre with the types of housing that are most needed in North Saanich,” Oystryk said.
(According to a staff report, single-detached homes account for 92 per cent of the housing stock in North Saanich, with the average cost having risen to $1.15 million from $720,000. “This leaves very few affordable options for seniors wishing to downsize and age-in-place and young families looking to buy their first home,” it reads.)
The current OCP designates that area and the Tsehum neighbourhood for affordable, multi-family housing, but both lie outside the CRD’s regional growth strategy (RGS) framework, Oystryk added. “They are essentially in land-use limbo. That means they are neither urban nor rural. It’s important to clarify the future of these lands and apply a consistent approach across the RGS and the OCP. This OCP update is also an opportunity for us to inform the RGS about what the community desires for these areas. ”
While Finall agreed the McTavish area lies in legislative limbo, North Saanich is not the place for additional housing, she said, pointing to the large amount of construction happening elsewhere in Greater Victoria, including Sidney, parts of Saanich, Victoria, Colwood and Langford.