Stunting growth in North Saanich

New council looking to reverse portions of a bylaw passed last term.

A public meeting on July 14

Murray Weisenberger says North Saanich municipal councillors are looking to eliminate portions of a bylaw that currently allows higher density development in parts of the district.

Weisenberger, a new councillor elected last November, said this council, for the most part, agrees that the bylaw (Bylaw 1352), passed last year under a very different council, was not a good one.

“I think the key issue here is that (some councillors) want to bring back the old days to some degree,” he said.

The debate on Bylaw 1352 started in February after council asked municipal staff for options to review the bylaw and put a hold on any development applications in two areas — along McTavish Road and Tsehum Harbour. Both were identified in a housing strategy report completed last term as potential areas that could accommodate more housing growth.

Weisenberger himself raised a motion to prepare a public consultation process, seek an affordable housing policy and notify the development community of potential changes and application deferral.

That motion was supported at council’s Feb. 23 committee of the whole, but it did not survive the March 2 regular meeting. It was dropped, Weisenberger said, to ask staff for more information and other options.

“Some on council revised their positions,” he said. “This is a tough issue.”

Mayor Alice Finall, who has been clear in her opposition to the bylaw, said she ran for re-election based on her desire to change it.

“My position has been clear,” she said. “To go forward, we have to go back. This is bad legislation and had a lot of community opposition.”

Finall said that was the main reason there was nearly a wholesale change of council in the last election.

She said district staff are being asked about the potential for a housing policy to come out of work being done by the Capital Regional District, combined with efforts by MLA Gary Holman and MP Elizabeth May on social housing options on the Saanich Peninsula.

Coun. Jack Thornburgh said, however, council cannot simply rescind Bylaw 1352.

It contains the rezoning details and legal requirements to allow the redevelopment of a portion of the Sandown property into a commercial space. It also allows for 83 acres of green space on the property to be turned over to the district.

“It seems to me there needs to be a decision on whether we want to be beholden to 1352, or massage it so it can stand,” Thornburgh said. “Most of council, however, thinks it’s flawed.”

The work toward creating Bylaw 1352 included the approval of the Canora Mews residential development. Thornburgh said  that project “gave people a chance to see really intense development.”

While he agrees the homes there did sell quickly, indicating demand, the project itself was “driven by huge development pressure.”

Both Thornburgh and Finall say one of their problems with the bylaw was the lack of public consultation before it was enacted.

Thornburgh, asked about a July 14 meeting that saw a packed Mary Winspear Centre and majority support for the bylaw, said he felt support and opposition there was almost divided.

“(The bylaw) needs to be overhauled, if not rescinded,” he said. “It needs major surgery.”

Weisenberger added he agrees that the process used by the previous council majority to put Bylaw 1352 in place was flawed. He does, however, think parts of the controversial housing strategy done by CTQ Consulting “is not all horrible and bad.”

“It did identify logical areas for growth in North Saanich.”

Finall added to make changes now will require a revision of the district’s official community plan, much like that done to get the bylaw in place. She said there should be public involvement on this potential revision as well. That, she said, will be up to council.

When council rejected Weisenberger’s motion this week, they left Bylaw 1352 in place and active. That means development applications could come in to the municipality for those identified growth areas.

Finall agreed that is the case but noted it’s obvious that the bylaw is in a state of flux.

“It is a difficult situation,” she said, “and there will be many challenges. But the message is out there that council is looking at this.”

Finall added she doesn’t expect staff to bring updated information and new options to council until later this month or into April.