It’s no secret North Saanich district councillors are split over the future of housing development in their municipality and Mayor Alice Finall and her supporters want to ensure the size and scope of this change is not a secret to the residents.
Council began the steps to change the District’s regional context statement bylaw on Feb. 3. This process will increase the amount of land within the municipality that will be open to more housing development at increased densities. It’s a move that the opponents of the mayor say has been a long time coming. It has also been the subject of the controversial housing implementation plan started by the municipality in 2012 to explore the need for growth in the wake of increased development pressure.
“These plans (for housing) on our borders with Sidney will be embraced,” says Councillor Ted Daly.
He added that since Sidney has little new land to build on, it’s up to North Saanich to provide space in appropriate areas for more housing.
“We are being a complete, inclusive community,” Daly said about this bylaw change.
He did credit Finall for having the courage to stick with her convictions throughout this process but made it clear the opposing positions of the councillors had not changed.
Should council approve the bylaw changes over the next few months, land along the McTavish and Canora road area — as well as along McDonald Park Road next to the Tsehum Harbour — will be approved to take up to 520 additional housing units through increased density. Already, the District has applications for up to 295 units in those areas and one 40-unit project has already started construction at a Canora Road property.
Maps of the subject areas show some vacant land. Much of it is, however, currently occupied by existing homes. Any proposed housing development would still have to seek various approvals from the municipality.
The council majority has been clear since early in their term they are supportive of more market-driven housing in North Saanich. Councillors Dunstan Browne, Conny McBride, Craig Mearns and Daly have stated additional varied housing options will, in their view, fulfill the needs of local workers. Various industrial companies have for years been lobbying Saanich Peninsula municipalities for more housing options for its employees.
McBride said council is not just opening up North Saanich for development with these changes.
“It’s at our peril that we start to mess with the character of our community,” she said. “Diversity in housing is needed. ALR development isn’t even planned, nor will anyone build over the parks. We need to have housing and the population to help support business (on the Peninsula).”
The growth is “all quite modest,” added Browne, saying these are relatively small areas being talked about for development. He added council’s majority is not talking about urbanizing a large portion of North Saanich.
“If this is so modest and so innocuous,” replied Finall, “I think it’s really important that every resident should know about it and what is proposed.”
The mayor suggested the District should send letters to each resident in the areas affected by the change. She also reiterated her call for a full official community plan review in the wake of what she has called fundamental change to the community. Finall and councillors Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock have pushed for the focus to be on social housing projects.
Daly said Finall has been asking for the OCP review since the public housing study and implementation plan backed up the majority’s wish to expand housing options. He said he asked for an OCP review at the start of the council term, but at that time, said Finall told council it wasn’t necessary.
The mayor’s ideas on consultation and an OCP review are on a timeline that would extend past the next election, Daly said.
Council did approve additional notification to residents in the McTavish Road and McDonald Park Road areas subject to the bylaw change. As well, the residential intensification plans will be posted on the District’s website. Council must also hold a public hearing, which is expected to occur following consultation with their neighbouring communities and a review of the proposed Regional Context Statement changes by the Capital Regional District.