The board of the Capital Regional District can now approve the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) after Saanich approved it.

Saanich completes puzzle of revised regional growth plan

Saanich’s vote in favour of the revised RGS clears the path for its final approval

Last but not least, Saanich has agreed to a revised version of a plan designed to shape the future direction of the region.

Council Monday unanimously approved revisions to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) under the auspice of the Capital Regional District (CRD). The RGS offers itself as a blue print for the region, guiding decisions on issues such as transportation, population growth and settlement patterns.

Monday’s vote makes Saanich the 13th and final CRD member to approve the revised RGS, clearing the way for its final approval, which requires prior unanimity among CRD members.

“This is such an important document, it justifies regional government,” said Coun. Susan Brice.

The RGS first emerged as a guiding document in the mid-1990s and undergoes periodic revisions. But the most recent revisions to the document ran into opposition, when seven municipalities including Saanich refused to accept the updated RGS in late 2016 and early 2017. A non-binding mediation session in late December 2017 reached a compromise, following some back-and-forth between the provincial government and the CRD over the method of resolving the conflict.

“I’m glad that the non-binding process worked,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff.

While rejecting municipalities differed in their reasons for rejecting the original RGS draft, Saanich’s objections focused on two issues: growth management and water service.

Concerning the first, Saanich staff found the initial draft document had dropped language designed to funnel growth into certain areas, using a hierarchy of identified growth areas.

“In removing the defined growth hierarchy, the proposed Regional Growth Strategy defers to individual municipal [Official Community Plans] with respect to where population and employment centres should develop,” it read. “This approach effectively diminishes the significant value of a regionally co-ordinated approach to growth management found in the current Regional Growth Strategy.”

The new document now distinguishes (as it did in a previous version) between three types of growth areas: the metropolitan core, sub-regional nodes, and nodes. Each of these categories describes in broad strokes permitted forms of development.

Brownoff said this hierarchy is crucial to the success of the strategy, a point that Brice echoed in stressing the need for density.

Concerning the second, the new draft also includes language that deals with the creation of new and the extension of existing water lines, “one of the strongest regulatory tools” with which the CRD can “curb sprawl in rural areas,” including to a staff report.

Saanich (along with other critics) have argued that a “more permissive regime for water service extensions” would likely lead to more development outside the urban containment boundary and undermine the goal of fitting 95 per cent of growth within the urban containment boundary.

Additional language now calls on the CRD to “consider the current and future costs of infrastructure design, construction, maintenance, and operation when considering whether to provide for new services or extend existing services.” The RGS also now states that “[full] costs of water service extensions will be borne by new users.” They would also bear the “[lifecycle] costs” of water service extensions to the “maximum extent.”

Said differently, the document gives permission for new water lines in the future, while attaching user-based fees to them in an effort to discourage them. The RGS also limits water extensions in the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area outside the urban containment boundary, and adds language that emphasizes the conservation of land, water, and energy in the delivery of infrastructure.

The mediation process also led to other revisions that strengthened the language around climate change, agriculture and food security, among other issues.

Overall, the non-binding mediation addressed some 30 issues.

Coun. Fred Haynes praised the overall spirit and substance of the document, which he said “enhances and echoes” Saanich’s Official Community Plan.

Mayor Richard Atwell expressed hope that the document will not end up on a shelf in calling for a more flexible and responsive document.

“What we have is good, but not great, and we need to get to great,” he said.

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