North Saanich housing projects take big step forward

Long-standing development proposals still face a long haul

With new and updated development and housing policies in place or coming soon in North Saanich, some of the proposals waiting in the wings are stepping out into the spotlight.

Two significant development proposals in the community have requested permits this week to begin the rezoning process, planning and site preparation in advance of actual construction. The first is a 95-unit small lot residential development called Reay Creek Meadows along Canora and Rideau roads. The second is a three-apartment building complex with 54 units on McDonald Park Road. Both have been on the books at the District for some time, awaiting the completion of certain policies that would pave the way to proceed.

Those include the District’s new amenities contribution policy, which sets out fees per unit to be paid by developers to help offset their impact on existing services or infrastructure. Other changes in North Saanich since 2012 include the creation of multi-family and small lot development permit area definitions and more. Those are outlined in a draft staff report released this week on development application procedures. The report is scheduled to be debated at council’s committee of the whole session on Nov. 25.

It outlines the actions taken by staff on order from council to streamline the application process.

“The impact of this will be far-reaching,” said Councillor Craig Mearns.

He said he wants District committees and community groups to have some input on the report, including on the amount of money North Saanich charges for various development-related fees. Those range from $300 to apply for a temporary commercial or industrial land use permit, to $8,000 to apply for a major development permit for commercial, industrial, institutional or 10-plus residential units.

Dean Strongitharm of Strongitharm Consulting Ltd. outlined the Reay Creek Meadows proposal for council on Nov. 18. The area is 5.5 hectares (13.59 acres) and is located along Canora Road and bordered by Rideau Road to the south, the Pat Bay Highway to the west and the Town of Sidney to the north. Of the proposed 95 units, Strongitharm said up to 19 lots would qualify for carriage house construction, meeting the District’s stated policy on wanting more attainable housing for area families and workers.

The District’s new amenity fee policy would charge the project an estimated $9,605 per lot and the council later voted to add a notice to each lot stating there is an existing airport and flyway nearby.

Council has been split on development issues since the 2011 municipal election and debate on this project Monday night was no different.

“This is a significant development proposal for North Saanich,” said Councillor Elsie McMurphy, who with Mayor Alice Finall and Coun. Celia Stock form a minority on council opposed to what they call rapid growth.

McMurphy called for more public input on the plan as well as more debate on council’s current path on development policy work.

Finall added she considers the Reay Creek Meadows project a dramatic up-zoining that would change the character of the neighbourhood — something she insists is contrary to statements in the District’s Official Community Plan. She repeated a call as well for an affordable housing strategy to be created in North Saanich prior to proceeding with this, or any other housing development.

Coun. Ted Daly said the community and council has been aware of the Reay Creek Meadows plan since March and a committee of the whole discussion.

“The package back then was extensive,” he said, “and the recommendation at the time was to refer the proposal to the (advisory planning commission) and (environmental advisory commission) and that staff were to come back with their recommendations.”

Council did, however, add a requirement that the proponent of the project hold a community meeting to outline their plans.

Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan said there will be more time for the public and council to learn about the project before it actually begins, as staff have to continue negotiations with the developer over amenity fees and continue to formalize the draft bylaw changes.

Further, Buchan noted the draft bylaws have to go to the Capital Regional District and others for review. What’s more, he continued, the District has to finalize revisions to its Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Context Statement before this project — or any other — can proceed. This must happen before a required public hearing on the proposal at a future council meeting.

Council, in a variety of vote counts, approved all nine recommendations in the staff report.