Housing delays ahead

North Saanich council expects tactics to continue over densities

Input from two dozen people at the Sept. 9 District of North Saanich council debate on its housing strategy implementation report generally took one of two sides: get on with allowing higher density housing developments, or don’t.

That’s how the debate has been framed since day one of the housing strategy process under the current council — yet plenty of people have argued that’s the debate in a nutshell over the last 13 years or more. And while some progress on the current housing report was made this week, there’s no indication that further delays aren’t on the horizon.

Which may be the reason why councillors weren’t swayed by the public at Monday night’s committee of the whole meeting, where the housing report was debated at length in a five-and-a-half-hour session. Throughout the evening and in their votes, it was clear neither side of a polarized council were stepping back from their entrenched positions.

Public calls for a referendum on the issue also went unheeded, as did people’s interpretations and analysis of the CTQ Consulting housing strategy report. Despite this, speakers stood before council, hoping to be heard.

“This report is a departure from the official community plan,” said resident Brian Taylor. “It’s not just a minor tweaking of the OCP.”

Taylor said he felt public input in the issue has been useless due to the 4-3 split on council and called for a referendum — as well as an early election date in North Saanich. Rebecca Vermeer also said she likes the idea of a referendum. Nancy Eaton, a regular supporter of the pro-development council majority, said a referendum would cost money and the district already has its majority opinion on housing, reflected in the outcomes of at least two housing reports commissioned by the municipality.

“We’ve actually seen five reports over the last 10 years,” added resident Mike Stanlake, referring to the current CTQ report, an OCP review in 2003 and studies on housing issues in the district in 2004, 2007 and 2008.

“We’ve been asked the same questions and we’ve been giving council the same answers,” said Stanlake. “Still, nothing’s done and I see more delays ahead.”

Issues such as study bias, the definition of affordable housing and more were also on people’s minds.

Councillors weren’t moved out of their positions, however. All of council expressed pleasure with a detailed staff report on the consultant’s study and seemed to be ready to adopt all seven of Director of Planning and Community Services Mark Brodrick’s recommendations. Yet, they didn’t pass without lengthy debates and what could only be described as filibustering from both camps on council.

As each recommendation was considered, Mayor Alice Finall and Councillor Elsie McMurphy suggested new motions and amendments, all of which were rejected in 4-3 votes.

Not to be outdone, Team North Saanich members Ted Daly, Craig Mearns, Dunstan Browne and Conny McBride suggested word changes and additions to some of the recommendations, sparking longer debate over what were, for the most part, redundant or unnceccesary changes to wording in the staff report .

At this point in Monday night’s debate, it appeared that filibuster efforts by Finall and McMurphy were being returned in kind by the Team North Saanich majority — and in effect both sides were filibustering each other.

Finall disagreed with the assessment that what she and McMurphy were doing was a delay tactic.

“It’s trying to get a proper grounding to where we are going,” she said. “I have said over and over, what densities are we looking for?”

Finall and McMurphy stated they do night think increased housing density allowances for future developments will lead to more affordable housing in North Saanich.

Coun. Daly said at the meeting the deep divisions in opinion haven’t changed, adding he feels the tactics used by the mayor, McMurphy and Coun. Celia Stock will work to delay to process further.

“I think these issues will still be here come (the municipal election in Nov., 2014),” he said.

In the end, council voted to receive and accept the CTQ housing report and direct staff to determine the servicing capacity and density analysis for two primary areas of potential development — the southeast quadrant of the district (East Saanich Road) and the McDonald Park and John Road area.

Council agreed also to not consider any density or development options in the McTavish Road west and Sandown Park areas.

Council also voted down any further public input opportunities on the housing report. A seventh recommendation was dropped as it no longer was needed after council agreed not to consider options for the McTavish Road and Sandown areas.

These steps only slightly move the hosing process in North Saanich ahead. Finall said later that all of the decisions Monday have to be ratified at a regular council meeting in October. She also anticipates that each step approved by council will face continued questioning at the table.