On May 5, 2021, the Urban Development Institute, a development industry lobby organization of some 850 corporate members, submitted a letter to the District of North Saanich OCP Project Team, commenting on the OCP review. It advocated for densification, even promoting it as a tool for saving farmland. The letter was reported in the Peninsula News Review.
Phrasing at the beginning of the letter thanking the District for inviting UDI’s participation evoked considerable community interest, with many residents alarmed by the Institute’s participation, and more so by the District’s invitation. (Some may recall that developers were also invited to a workshop that was closed to residents.) This topic gained strength and was discussed on social media for some time.
As criticism over the UDI report invitation grew, Mayor Orr attempted to defuse the situation on the social media site NextDoor and in other social media platforms.
On July 2, Mayor Orr posted a comment on NextDoor, including this statement:
At the Council meeting of 14 June 2021 – with the matter still churning on social media, Mayor Orr raised it again. Commenting on the tone of many social media posts, the Mayor said:
Later in the meeting, he raised the matter again, in a question period with Brian Green, Director of Planning:
The Mayor confirmed with Mr. Green that UDI had been invited to the closed-door portion of the Design Charette, but that they had not attended. He then carried on:
In contrast to all this is what appears to be a form letter from a Planning Department staff member to UDI, presumably as one of a number of organizations deemed by the Project Team to be “stakeholders” in the OCP process. (The following emails were obtained as a result of a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.)
A UDI representative responded some weeks later:
And staff responded:
UDI was invited by staff to submit comments on the OCP review. UDI was invited by staff to participate fully in the OCP Review, including public opinion surveys and workbooks (both of which were designed to be completed anonymously). We are not sure how to reconcile these facts with the statements above.
Almost every member of Council is on the record insisting that "developers are stakeholders" in our OCP review, and must be part of the engagement process. It seems they have been invited in with open arms.