Housing debate rages on

Residents reach some concensus on densities; how to implement change still hounds district council

Fundamental differences on housing issues still exist between factions on the council of North Saanich and a recent public open house on the matter has not resolved them.

On March 27, the consulting firm (CTQ) hired by the district to lead the community through an analysis of housing density issues with the goal of helping set a direction for council, held a final open house. An estimated 150 people filled a room at the Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church and nearly 30 of them took the chance to speak directly to councillors. Opinions and comments were varied. The main issue continues to be the need for diverse housing options, contrasted by the desire to prevent urban sprawl and the loss of agricultural land. While most speakers expressed support for new forms of housing and higher densities, there were significant differences in how this could be achieved.

“In the final analysis, there was no clear consensus on the issue of higher densities as a matter of policy although some expressed strong support,” stated Mayor Alice Finall in an email.

“In contrast,  others spoke in strong support of our current OCP policies and the role of North Saanich in the Regional Growth Strategy.”

Councillor Ted Daly said he was not surprised by the comments made during the open house, nor by the consultant’s survey results which showed support for housing density change.

“This is stuff we already knew,” Daly said. “The consultation is done, as was requested by council and in our official community plan, now we have to move on and a final report (from the consultant) is to come.”

He said while some people stood before council and called for a full OCP review, that ship has sailed.

“My understanding was the straightest line was to do the housing consultation and study,” he said. “To do an OCP review now would take one-and-a-half years and go into a new election.”

Daly said that in his estimation, it’s time to move on and look to advancing the various housing development projects before North Saanich council. He said his understanding of the 9395 East Saanich Road proposal is that it revises the district’s regional context statement somewhat — as was stated by the Capital Regional District when it reviewed the plan.

“The CRD suggested the district make changes to its (regional context statement) and then return to the CRD to approve it.”

Daly said he expects the consultant to tell council as much, adding this will help move the two or three development proposals before the council forward.

Finall noted speakers at the open house indicated they were prepared to support some higher density if it was well planned and really did meet the needs of young families, seniors and those with disabilities.

“I support a housing affordability initiative but continue to have major concerns that no policies to date have been implemented to achieve those objectives,” Finall said. “I think there is an expectation by residents that they will be looking to council for assurance that truly meeting the needs of young families, seniors and those with disabilities will be accomplished.”

The consultant is in the process of completing their final report to council. Finall said

council must show residents “that decisions being made by council will ensure housing affordability for the target groups.”