Housing report reflects divisions

Consultant Ed Grifone outlines North Saanich housing study’s findings before the chaos

Before a stirred-up District council ended questions to a contracted housing consultant Monday night, they were on the verge of accepting his report and moving forward.

Ed Grifone of CTQ Consultants Ltd. of Kelowna outlined key points of the Housing Strategy Implementation Plan, which was started in late 2012 with the bulk of the work done between January and March this year. Council had been chomping at the bit to get the draft report and their continued communications with Grifone over when to expect it has caused a major rift between the two factions of council (see related story in this edition).

Grifone said he is fully aware council and the community had been waiting for his report since late May to the beginning of June — and that there were “various factions” in the community.

“There are a lot of heart-felt opinions about the community and housing within the community,” he said, adding his challenge was synthesizing the copious amounts of information — and those opinions — into his report.

Grifone admitted his report is a near echo of two other studies done in the District in 2003 and 2008.

“We really did find support for higher density forms of housing. This support is not significantly different than what was found in past studies and reports — yet this time there were conditions to be considered.”

Those included issues of affordability, worker housing, areas of growth, density levels and service limits. Grifone said the critical concerns in the community appear to be over higher density housing options and resulting impacts on traffic, agricultural land, urban sprawl and more.

“Council will have to expect to be challenged on any local need for workforce housing,” he warned. “But the area has done well, economically, which has led to the need.”

He said he was told by the local business and industrial community that they have employees seeking new housing — and that demand could require between 400 and 500 new homes in the immediate area.

Finding places for up to 4,500 people to live on the Saanich Peninsula must, he continued, be weighed against community values in North Saanich — including any impact on agricultural land which many people feel is sacrosanct, community character and property values.

To meet that need, the District is being asked to consider higher density housing on smaller lots. Council has already put in place new bylaws allowing such lots and there are an estimated 395 units in various stages of the development application process in North Saanich.

Grifone’s report recommends higher, if only slightly, densities over what has already been considered in the 2008 housing strategy — a document Grifone called “solid.” He said the densities on the table now reflect what is happening elsewhere in B.C.

Where he said he’s hearing a lot of community reaction is in the suggested areas of North Saanich ripe for further growth. While two sectors — the southeast quadrant (East Saanich road to the McTavish interchange) and McDonald Park Road east of Highway 17 — are the primary sites, it’s the two secondary areas that raised eyebrows. Those include McTavish Road west and the Sandown racetrack property.

“In those areas, there are many issues to address,” he said, noting that if the District wanted to further develop the two primary sites they would have to do it soon and include “a finer grain of planning.”

That is outlined in the action plan provided in the CTQ report, Grifone concluded.

The report is available on the District of North Saanich’s website (under the Housing Strategy section). A committee of the whole council session set for Sept. 9 will include further debate on the report — and may include council’s formal receipt of the study, allowing CTQ to be paid the monies outstanding in their contract. Director of Planning Mark Brodrick indicated Monday night that his staff report on the document would say it has met the terms of reference set out by the municipality.

What council thinks of the report

It’s still early in council’s review of the CTQ Consultants’ housing study — there are more meetings yet to come — but in the wake of Monday’s council presentation and subsequent walkout, North Saanich councillors did comment on the report’s findings.

Mayor Alice Finall said she had quite a few questions to ask, especially in regards to its look at affordability — the definitions and how much weight the issue was given.

“It’s something I’ve been talking about since the start of this term,” she said.

Finall added the report is still a draft and needs more discussion and should include more information, such as results from a North Saanich Residents Association survey — which had significantly different results when it came to density and growth support than a survey conducted by the consultant.

Councillor Celia Stock said all of council will be asking questions of the consultant, which doesn’t mean councillors are opposed to the report.

Coun. Dunstan Browne said the District hired a consultant and received a comprehensive report. He agrees questions must be asked about the issues raised within the document — but not going so far as trying to discredit what he called a professional report.

Even with differences of opinion on council, the politicians had been poised to accept the CTQ document, pay the outstanding bill for the work, and proceed with a public input phase, leading to further debate over the fine points in the study. Monday night’s walkout will set that process back, said the mayor.