Today SNS presents something we find to be of very significant value: The thoughts of Island-based community planner and longtime North Saanich resident, Alan Osborne.
Alan’s 30-year planning career has focused on helping communities become more sustainable.
As BC’s Executive Director of Planning and Intergovernmental Relations, he helped municipal and regional governments across BC tackle challenges such as climate change, affordable housing, and urban sprawl.
And he was responsible for developing much of the legislation that local governments use today, including the legislation used for community and regional planning and for regulating development.
But, obviously, Alan didn’t start there. Previously working at ground level, he was engaged as a planner at some five BC municipalities, at a regional district and – for the Gulf Islands – at the Islands Trust.
Trained as a mediator, he has assisted numerous local governments to resolve inter-municipal and municipal-regional issues.
During his 35-year North Saanich residency, Alan has served on the Parks Commission and put in multiple terms on the Community Planning Commission. Most recently, he was appointed to the Select Committee on Climate Change.
SNS is pleased to offer Alan’s notes from his presentation at the May 24th “Dialogue Session” between 12 representatives of SaveNorthSaanich.ca, and the District’s OCP Project Team.
You may well find his thoughts helpful as you attempt to complete
the District’s latest OCP survey.
Survey closes June 12. We hope you find the time to chime in.
Read on for wise words from Alan.....
May 24, 2022
Save North Saanich meeting with OCP Planning Team
Speaking notes - Alan Osborne
Very quick background, I’ve worked as a planner for municipalities, a regional district and the Islands Trust. As Director of Local Government Policy and Legislation for quite a few years I oversaw the development of much of BC’s current planning legislation, from bonus density to regional growth strategies.
I met most of these folks for the first time this past weekend, and I was very impressed with their experience and their passion. They thought I could serve a useful role at this meeting if I spoke the themes that are common to any of their concerns.
This group has asked me to talk about three themes.... vision, context and climate.
I’ve lived in North Saanich for 35 years and I’ve been involved with numerous committees and commissions since Day 1. Literally on the day we moved in, as I was unloading boxes from a U-Haul truck, someone walked up the driveway and asked me to attend an Advisory Planning Commission meeting that was scheduled for the following day. I went.
I’ve watched North Saanich evolve. On the face of it the community has changed a fair bit over the years, but one thing has remained steady; the community vision... captured by the OCP.
Residents have always valued;
Their role in providing green and blue spaces (to use some planning jargon)
Their role as a major food supplier, with the potential to dramatically increase food production if needed in the future...and with climate change that time may be sooner that we thought.
Residents have always placed a very high value on our rural landscapes, and the ecological value of our forests and hedgerows.
And they’ve always acknowledged their responsibility as a regional transportation hub.
The vision has been a touchstone and has served the community well. The proposed vision that is out for public comment, includes a shift in our long-standing vision. What frustrates many people is that there’s never been an explicit discussion on why the current vision needs to change.
I appreciate that from the planning team perspective, you asked for input on the revised vision. But it’s very difficult for the average resident to cut through the warm fuzzy wording and appreciate the changes. You can slip in words “complete community” or “diverse neighbourhoods” and peoples’ eyes glaze over. They don’t understand the implications of those words.
I can guarantee you that if you explained, with pictures, that “diverse neighbourhoods” means adding townhouses and 4 story condos to their neighbourhood you’d get much more feedback on the vision.
In this OCP review we’ve spent much too much time “in the weeds”, mainly reacting to a couple of the some concepts, while at a more fundamental level there’s been no meaningful discussion about why the community’s long-standing vision should change.
This leads us to the second theme, the lack of context. For any planning process, forest planning, social planning, financial planning, it’s critical to start with the context.
Now, in explaining this theme I am going to tell you things that, as planners, you already know. But we thought it was important that we provide this background. We have 13 municipalities in the CRD and all of their OCPs need to fit into a regional context. The CRD Regional Growth Strategy is very clear on the role that North Saanich plays in the region.
And that role is very much aligned with the vision in the existing OCP. The RGS does not see North Saanich being a major source of new housing. Quite the contrary, in fact it was agreed that no part of North Saanich would be in the urban containment area.
Millions of dollars and years of work were spent developing the original RGS and the update a few years ago. A central pillar of the RGS is the need for an urban containment boundary, to prevent further urban sprawl, to protect rural areas, protect our farms, to protect the environment and reduce emissions.
Housing demand was a big part of the analysis. The urban growth area was determined to be the most appropriate place for almost all new housing in the region. It has the required services and within the urban growth boundary there’s real potential to achieve “active transportation neighbourhoods”. That’s more planning jargon, which means residents should be able to walk, cycle and use transit for most of their daily trips.
It’s important to keep in mind that, after housing, transportation costs are the biggest slice of the average household budget. I recently saw figures that said the average family spends $8-12,000 annually, for every vehicle they own. Municipalities have little influence over the price of housing but they can help families in a meaningful way by encouraging people to live where they can choose not to rely on a car for most daily trips. Urban
containment is a win/win situation. Families save money on personal vehicles and at the same time it reduces emissions and helps the region to meet our climate goals.
The RGS says that we need to focus 95% of new housing within the urban containment area. Ideally it would be 100% but they knew there would be some “leakage”, that some existing vacant , pre-zoned lots outside the urban containment area would be built upon.
So are we as a region meeting that 95% goal? The most recent RGS Annual Progress Report says that they are not....not even close. It says that much too much new housing is still being built outside the boundary, especially in rural areas. That means that communities like North Saanich need to stop trying to accommodate the demand for housing outside of the urban containment area.
No one is suggesting that urban containment boundaries can’t be re-visited; they aren’t cast in stone. But has the CRD said that the urban containment area needs to be expanded? No it hasn’t. Then how is it that the only land use scenarios that have been put out for public review still allow for significant amounts of housing outside of the urban containment area? Why isn’t there a land use scenario that is consistent with the RGS
and the need to ensure that new housing is within the existing urban
In fairness, a land use option was added that would reduce the amount of new housing in some areas, but it’s really only a half measure at best, because at the same time the other proposals add more new housing outside of the urban containment area. The land use scenarios sent out for public comment don’t provide any explanation as to why there is an urban containment area in the RGS, what it’s intended to achieve and what progress is being made (or in this case, not being made). By being silent on the context, this suggests that there are no negative impacts to any of the scenarios...that they are all good planning options.
Some years back I was in a meeting where then-Premier Gordon Campbell called the mayors from our major urban areas into the Cabinet Chambers to tell them that they had to get serious about climate change. He asked them ... “How many of you ran for office on a platform to create more urban sprawl? And yet that is exactly what you’re doing. You may think that you’re approving reasonable developments but when you stand back
and look at the cumulative results, you’re still creating urban sprawl.”
The tension in the OCP review won’t go away until someone makes a very clear and convincing case that the urban containment area needs to be expanded. As part of that, they need to make the case that an urban village in McTavish is the best option to meet our region’s housing and environmental goals.
If we were in Ontario, or any other jurisdictions with a planning review board, there would have to be reams of studies, presenting data and analysis, before any expansion would be considered. And while the McTavish urban village attracts a lot of attention, some of
the land use scenarios also propose a lot of new housing be added in other areas of North Saanich, all outside the urban containment area. And again, with no context and no sense of the implications.
We all appreciate why some residents will be in favour of more housing options. Some people want to add a secondary suite or guest cottage to supplement their income. Some would love to subdivide their property, make some money, and build a smaller home for themselves. Other people see a need to help tenant farmers and farm entrepreneurs live on-site, etc.
So how can we reconcile the RGS report that says too much housing is being built in rural areas with all of these housing demands? Shouldn’t there be some analysis and some priorities recommended? If we’re going to have some additional housing in our rural areas shouldn’t we at least make sure that it has the maximum community benefit? This OCP process should be a forum where such issues can be examined and discussed, so that we all feel that we’ve made the best choices or compromises.
When you present options without the context you’re relying on people to connect the dots, link the issues together, do their own research, and do their own analysis. That’s not realistic. As planners you should be doing this work: present the context, the challenges, identity the tough choices that need to be made and give your best assessment of the implications of each option. With this information residents would be in a position to
provide informed input.
This brings me to the third issue, climate change.
The most recent CRD Greenhouse Gas Inventory showed that the region is falling far behind where it needs to be in reducing GHG emissions. The goal was to reduce emissions by 33% between 2007 and 2020. The study shows that emissions fell by only 10%. Per capita emissions did fall quite a bit in some municipalities, particularly in Victoria.
Which municipalities are doing the worst? No surprise, it’s those like North Saanich that continue to allow development in rural areas. When North Saanich Council declared a climate emergency the community was told that the OCP would be where they would see details on many of the bold actions that will be required. Council also agreed to
implement a recommendation of the municipality’s Select Committee on Climate Change that a climate lens be applied to Council reports and decisions.
The planning team documents mention climate, and in echos the need for “strong actions”, but then there’s a huge disconnect between those nice words and the actual proposals. The concepts put out for public input recommend housing where residents will have no choice but to use personal vehicles for most of their daily trips. How is that bold action on climate?
The “concepts” seem to be based on an assumption that density means walkability, and transit use, regardless of where that density is. Take the Deep Cove proposal for mixed use and an undefined amount of new housing. It’s presented as a climate-friendly option. I can only assume the planning team hasn’t studied the bus schedule. For those of us who live there, we know that the level of bus service is nowhere near that required
for residents to forgo the use of a car. On weekdays the bus comes every 2 or 3 hours. On weekends the bus comes 3 times a day. So if you miss your bus you have a 6 hour wait. BC Transit tells us there are no plans in the foreseeable future to improve the frequency. So it’s pretty obvious that any new housing added in Deep Cove will be auto-dependent....more vehicles on the road, more emissions. If a climate lens was applied I
guarantee you this concept would fail.
The same issue applies to the Benchlands (also known as the Terraces). I know there are some residents there who want to subdivide or put in guest cottages. Maybe there are some portions of the Benchlands where pedestrian pathways could be added so that the residents could have short walk up to East Saanich Rd., and have access to a reasonably frequent bus. But right now the proposal thrown out is for infill housing in that whole area. This is without any ideas for how these residents could possibly access transit, and no acknowledgement that more auto-dependent development will hurt our ability to reduce emissions.
If Gordon Campbell were here he would say, however well-intentioned, at the end of the day, if it’s car dependent it’s sprawl, and we can’t afford more of it if we’re serious about climate change.
I’ll let others speak now. In closing, it would be a mistake to dismiss this group as simply “anti-development”. I’ve found in listening to these people that they represent many others in the community, they’re just a bit more vocal and passionate! They fully understand the issues such as affordability, but they also care deeply about their community.
I’m sure they all know people who are struggling to find affordable and appropriate housing. They just want to make sure that new housing is in the right location; where it’s best for the families and doesn’t undermine the equally important goals set by the community.
I did the on-line survey last night, and you can imagine my frustration with the questions on the vision, the lack of regional context, and the lack of context on climate change. It made me think about the fact that we’re only a few months from the next election and that I should have my own questions ready for the candidates. I’ve still got time to work on them but they’ll probably be something like:
1. Do you agree that the long-standing vision of North Saanich is still valid? Or do you think that it needs to change to incorporate more dense, urban development?
2. Do you support the RGS goal to limit urban sprawl and focus new housing within the current urban containment boundary? Or do you believe we should ignore the RGS and allow significantly more housing throughout North Saanich?
3. Do you believe that strong actions are needed to address climate change and reduce emissions? If so, do you agree that we need to apply a climate lens to all development proposals, to ensure that we aren’t approving more development where residents must rely on cars for most of their daily trips?
Food for thought, folks. Don't forget to fill out the survey. You can find it here.
Stay tuned for some more insight from local contributors, coming next week.
Your friends and neighbours at SaveNorthSaanich.ca