This minor collision at the intersection of Saanich Road and Blanshard Street (Black Press Media file photo)

Year In Review: Top Issues in Saanich in 2019

Potential amalgamation, road safety and the little jam stand that refused to be crushed

While the District of Saanich is already looking ahead to 2020, it’s worth noting that 2019 was a busy year for the municipality.

Issues varying from potential amalgamation with the City of Victoria, the controversy surrounding the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw and road safety issues were just some of the topics that held the attention of many in the District.

Here’s a wrap up on some of the top issues covered in 2019.

Amalgamation

During the 2018 municipal election, residents in Saanich and Victoria voted in favour of spending up to $250,000 to establish an assembly to look at amalgamating the two municipalities.

In February, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes emphasized that the stakes were high in the amalgamation discussions because it could lead to the dissolution of the municipality.

“This is the biggest decision since the formation of Saanich,” he said after the first meeting of the citizens’ assembly standing committee.

In July, the Saanich and Victoria amalgamation committees disagreed over the size of the citizen’s assembly studying amalgamation and the number of meetings to be had. Saanich wanted at least six meetings and 100 members, but Victoria wanted a maximum of six meetings and 49 members.

After much deliberation, Saanich settled on 75 members for the citizen’s assembly and has finalized its terms, Haynes explained in December. Now, Victoria councillors will decide if they agree with the terms and the number of members. If they do, the issue will come back to Saanich council for a final review before being sent to the province. The B.C. government will check over the terms of reference from each municipality to make sure they match and decide if the province will help fund the venture. If the province chips in, the budget will be $750,000, if not it will be $500,000.

If all goes according to plan, Haynes sees the assembly process moving forward towards the end of March 2020. Applications would be sent out to residents at random and a group of 75 would be chosen to represent the demographics of both municipalities.

Haynes is looking forward to seeing what recommendations come back from the citizen’s assembly on amalgamation when their deliberations are complete.

“They’ll be like a jury,” he said, “deciding on the life or death of Saanich as an independent municipality.”

The little jam stand

Katherine Little, a Saanich retiree, opened the Little Stand – a small farm stand on her property – in the summer of 2018. She sold jams, chutneys and salsas and operated it without issue until December 2018 when Island Health called saying a complaint had been filed about the product not being Foodsafe. Little complied by getting certified and moving operations to the Mustard Seed’s commercial kitchen.

Next, she was contacted by Saanich bylaw officers explaining that complaints had been filed saying she was violating various bylaws with her signs and her farm stand. The stand was shut down in June 2019 and two local grocery stores and a restaurant also stepped in and offered to sell Little’s jams after hearing her story.

With support from Coun. Nathalie Chambers, Little has been pushing for a review of the bylaw prohibiting farm stands and the municipality has committed itself to doing so.

Since closing the stand, Little has continued to deal with bylaw officers and complaints from neighbours but is holding her ground – she even went to see a lawyer.

“I don’t want the fight, but I miss my jam stand,” she said sadly. “It’s just effing jam.”

READ ALSO: Saanich jam stand owner feels harassed, seeks legal advice

This year also brought an ongoing petition to ban gas-powered leaf blowers in the District, a flood at the Saanich Centennial Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library resulting in a shutdown and a cyclist brought attention to the lack of bike-friendly drive-thrus.

Road safety

Road safety was at the forefront of many Saanich residents’ minds with daily collisions or near misses, the trial of the driver that hit young Leila Bui and the bus crash that killed two 18-year-old students from the University of Victoria en route to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in September.

In November, Haynes penned a letter to Premier John Horgan asking for road speed changes to be made through the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) in response to the “epidemic of road crash fatalities.”

He noted that making changes to speeds through local bylaws is possible, but much more timely and costly. He also explained that making changes at the provincial level would create consistency for all road users compared to the current “piecemeal nature” of speed limits.

“Road safety is not a political issue that can be continuously delayed and deferred,” Haynes wrote.

Horgan’s office responded to Haynes’ letter by asking him to re-engage with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – which Haynes said he plans to do in the new year.

The Chief Medical Health Officer for Island Health, Dr. Richard Stanwick, also replied to Haynes’ letter citing the benefits that a blanket road speed reduction through the MVA would bring to municipalities, taxpayers and families.

Encouraging replies also came from other mayors in B.C. as Haynes shared the letter widely. He will be asking the other mayors to write their own letters to Horgan in 2020 to show how strongly B.C. feels about road safety.

Haynes hopes to see the province “step up” and review the MVA to prevent further loss of life and improve driver behaviour.

Kings Road Park

After residents voiced a desire to protect the Kings Road green space, Saanich purchased the land from BC Hydro for $5.5 million with the end-goal of turning the lot into a park. The District took ownership in July.

The purchase, however, came with a catch. Saanich said that it would need to sell portions of the lot if $2.75 million couldn’t be raised to offset the debt from the purchase which was financed by borrowing $4 million and tapping into reserve funds for the rest.

The Saanich Legacy Foundation has been leading a one-year fundraising initiative to raise the necessary $2.75 million. Fundraisers were held and in November, the Capital Regional District agreed to consider contributing up to $2 million to the cause. Residents have voiced their passion for protecting the green space nestled between Kings Road and Haultain Street and failing doesn’t seem to be an option.

EDPA bylaw replacement

The controversial EDPA bylaw was introduced in 2012 to protect the District’s environmentally sensitive areas. In 2017, the former Saanich council voted 5-4 to do away with the existing EDPA bylaw despite protests from some residents.

In 2019, council began to look at options for replacing the bylaw. Residents in support of the bylaw argue that its opponents are basing their arguments on inaccurate science – a view that was bolstered when the College of Applied Biology permanently stripped EDPA critic, Ted Lea, of his status as a professional biologist in May.

After discussing the Environmental Policy Framework at various council meetings throughout the year, the Biodiversity Framework was put on the table, Haynes explained. It was approved by council in the fall under a new name – Resilient Saanich.

Haynes noted that the new framework is more “holistic” and would protect 100 per cent of Saanich’s biodiversity, not just the development areas. He feels Resilient Saanich is better suited to taking an active role in responding to the climate crisis.

“It’s been a contentious issue and councillors stepped up to take responsibility and reduce conflict,” Haynes said.

A technical committee will work on the framework and bring it back to council in 2020.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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