A special council meeting scheduled for next Monday (Jan. 31) will consider the future of North Saanich’s Official Community Plan (OCP) review.
The meeting comes almost two months after council deferred key decisions around the OCP, including whether to approve additional funding for the review, the estimated cost for which is approaching $500,000..
While staff last year recommended that council push ahead with the review, council deferred not once, but twice the question of funding and other related issues.
Council instead asked staff to advance work on the OCP without considering housing and affordability, to explore the possibility of a separate engagement process on those issues, then report back with a revised engagement work plan and budget for the next phase of the review. Council wants to know whether the municipality can keep the process moving by separating housing and affordability from the review, then folding them back in at a future time.
Questions around housing and affordability have fuelled the most spirited discussions in the process.
Prominent community voices, including former mayor Alice Finall, have said the municipality has had an “excessive focus on housing,” and expressed fears the OCP review will open up North Saanich to development out of touch with its perceived character as rural, agricultural community. A smaller, less vocal chorus say the community needs more density in select locations to improve housing affordability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Council’s decision in December appears as an attempt to navigate the process past these fault lines, even at the expense of a delay.
“If we can’t get to a place where we think the engagement process is going to be effective to help us communicate with the community, and feel we are moving forward in addressing these matters that are important to the community and that it hasn’t been seeing, then there is no point in spending more money on that process,” Mayor Geoff Orr said at the time.
Staff and the consultant handling the review raised concerns about separating housing and affordability out of the drafting process, warning that such a move would create an incomplete document with the potential to further divide the community.
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