By Don Enright
On May 19, the residents of North Saanich got their first look at what the District’s OCP Project Team had in mind for land development. It’s fair to say that most of the people didn’t like what they saw.
Most of the people really didn't like what they saw.
Within a very few weeks, Council had more than 300 negative letters in its mailbox, and 250-275 people rallying in opposition on its front lawn.
On July 12, in response, Mayor and Council effectively voted to pause the OCP process. On September 17, on short notice and amid the rising pandemic, they scheduled a public meeting, effectively starting up again. But throughout the hiatus, their messaging had been consistent and clear: “We are listening,” they said, over and over again. “We are listening. We are listening.”
We heard it again at the outset of Council’s September 22 Special Meeting, which was formatted as a “Workshop” with the staff planners and outside consultants of the Project Team. As Council discussed the Team’s “Six Big Ideas” during a seven-hour session, Council had full opportunity to reflect all they’d heard during the nine-week pause, all they’d learned while listening. The question, essentially, was “What next?”
There’s a video here - you can watch the whole thing. Having done just that, myself, though, as one of 7 people live in the back of the meeting room, it became entirely clear that, while Council may have been listening, the residents’ message went entirely unheard.
Because while they did discard a couple of particularly unpopular development concepts – limiting residential growth in Deep Cove and deleting “sensitive infill” in Dean Park Estates – it was nonetheless also absolutely clear, from that alone, that the fundamental sentiment of North Saanich residents – which can be reasonably abbreviated as “Stop the Madness!” - hasn’t made a dent.
The sorry truth is that far more significant than what Council took out is what Council left in. And that is enough residential and commercial development in enough places and enough forms to forever change the land and the life of the place where we live.
They're still proposing commercial development in Deep Cove.
They're still proposing duplexes, triplexes and cluster housing in The Terraces.
They're still proposing commercially zoned “Neighborhood Nooks” at Queen Mary Bay, Ardmore Golf Course, The Terraces and Dean Park.
And, if their planning dreams come true, a vast area in the southeastern quadrant – with the intersection of McTavish and East Saanich Roads at its core – will still become exactly what the people of North Saanich live here to avoid: A high-density, free-fire development zone of multi-story apartment buildings and significant commercial zoning; of townhouses, cluster houses, other houses; of hellish traffic and – I will bet – yet another roundabout . . . all of it built at the literal crossroads of the North Saanich community, in the heart of - and on the main route in and out of – where we live.
But wait! It’ll get worse. You’ve probably seen examples of this elsewhere, yourself.
Because externally driven, opportunistic development is a form of invasive species; once planted, it spreads, smothers and grows. Beginning at McTavish/East Saanich it will creep west across the peninsula, south along East Saanich, (where lower Dean Park has been opened up); and north to an airport that’s still land-rich and ever shovel-ready.
Ultimately, it won’t matter how far you live from McTavish; wherever you live, development will find you. Because housing that brings urbanites into rural areas creates a dense, amenity-focused voter base that quickly overwhelms the rural vote. In the final analysis and in the real world, there’s no such thing as a little development.
The Project Team’s Land Use Option 1 imagines 11,678 new units. Option 2 suggests 8,821.
But the CRD’s Housing Needs Assessment estimates that North Saanich will actually need just 877 units over the next 20-years. And this while the District’s current zoning building capacity – based mostly on opportunities for guest cottages, secondary suites and other affordable, in-demand 1-2 bedroom accommodation – is 4,409, more than five times as much.
But somehow that’s not good enough, and most of Council wants to build. Sure, they know that growth in North Saanich is strictly limited by the Regional Growth Strategy, limited specifically to protect other values – agricultural, environmental, arboreal – that are rare elsewhere in the CRD. And they know, for that purpose, the District is entirely outside the Urban Containment Boundary.
Finally they must know – even if they have chosen not to acknowledge – the fact that many, many of their residents are in ardent opposition to what Council is doing, and that demonstrated support for it has been no more at best than minimal.
But, still, most of Council wants to build.
Perhaps they mistakenly think that mass development and rural character can be friends. Or maybe they see the community’s dismay as mere hysteria, believing – despite numerous nearby examples – that somehow in North Saanich the familiar ruinous growth process will turn out differently. Or maybe it doesn’t matter how it turns out . . . as long as they start construction.
Can you tell us what Council thinks? Do you know how Council thinks? Have you heard a meaningful discussion? A coherent vision for the District? The vision statement they’re working with reads like a chain restaurant menu and was drafted by the consultants.
If “What next?” was the September 22 question, Council’s response was a quick list of low-hanging locations, ripe for development. The only time the idea of protection arose was in reference to the putative advantages of bordering working farmland with four-story apartment buildings.
You can get a sense of the current process by watching Council as it effectively redrew the zoning map of the District starting at 4:47:40 in the September 22 video.
Or read it– starting with “Neighborhood Nooks” - on page 28 of the NSRA Meeting Summary.
For more on the Regional Growth Strategy and the Urban Containment Boundary, look here.
We expect better; we deserve more. And, we need to remember that as we again step up our efforts, moving past this disappointment and back to work.
Council will host a virtual community meeting on October 20, allowing everyone an opportunity for direct dialogue with their North Saanich Councilors. We urge you to attend and make your feelings known; it’s also vital that you continue writing to Council.
Going forward, the Project Team is considering hosting a series of neighborhood meetings - in areas they’ve destined for development – sometime later this year. We’ll want to make sure people know about those.
Finally, Council will publicly meet with the Project Team sometime in November. Though contingent on a Stage 4 CoVid declaration from BC Health, this meeting – if it’s held - will represent a pivotal moment. We’ll keep you informed.
In the meantime, please forward this to your neighbors and friends, and suggest they look at SaveNorthSaanich.ca. What we learned by the end of the September 22 meeting is that it’s going to take an overwhelming public response to stop this thing.
Still, at the opening of the September 22 meeting, the Mayor emotionally proclaimed that “Council exists to serve the residents of the community,” and, moments later, “The residents are the reason we exist.”
Our job is to help Council remember that.
We just need to do better – and faster! - at that job, going forward.
Cartoon: Tom Innes