Developing Central Saanich is no easy feat

This column is partly in response to public comments on a proposed development on 7201/7217 Veyaness Road.

I would like to clarify some issues raised in a recent letter regarding a proposed development in Central Saanich.

There is no absolute 1% annual growth “target” in the Central Saanich Official Community Plan (OCP). Central Saanich Council does not go looking for developments; it responds to applications it receives. The municipality doesn’t focus on counting every rezoning and building permit released, setting off a red goal light when the count reaches 70. It’s a rolling annual average that reflects the ups and downs of housing demands and the market over time.

I’m not aware of any guidelines or policies that give direction to council on how to respond if that average exceeds the 1% guideline. How do you manage residential growth? Units created through rezonings? Building permits approved for properties that have the potential to create new housing? Commercial properties in Brentwood and Saanichton have the zoning (and have for decades) to build multiple storey mixed residential-commercial complexes.

This is not a simple process. Developments like Marigold Lands build out through multiple phases over many years, not in one big dump. After the Marigold rezoning had been approved, should the district not have considered any other rezonings or variances or approved any building permits for three years? Roundabout Square (Royal Bank Plaza in Brentwood) was rezoned in 2007 but is still not complete. Would it be denied a building permit? The 1% guideline does not include affordable housing units or secondary suites (OCP). Council has approved 47 affordable rental units in the last few years, 40 managed by the Greater Victoria Housing Society and is in the process of considering another 40 affordable units managed by the same group.

The letter noted the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) did not support the proposal of interest. Some APC members did indicate possible support for a lower density than proposed but above the current R-1 Large Lot zoning. Other residential developments approved by council have been supported by our professional planning staff and the APC. We have a well-defined urban containment boundary. ALR and rural lands outside the boundary cover about 70% of our land base. New housing developments approved by this council have been located inside the urban containment boundary: the rural areas of the community have beenprotected. Moreover, council expressed its opposition to giant marijuana production facilities on the ALR.

Council is faced with the challenge of providing a diversity of housing choices within the urban containment boundary, including affordable rental housing. With limited land available, council has generally supported more efficient residential land use (OCP) approving smaller homes on smaller lots, for example. The district is looking at other options, including carriage houses and tiny homes, through its current infill and densification review, which is expected to produce zoning updates and a new set of design guidelines for today’s housing challenges. The challenge of infill and densification is not limited to Central Saanich but is a common theme across B.C. and beyond. How do you make changes in order to stay the same?

I did not support this proposal going forward but I do support the right of council to go to a public hearing to listen to what the broader community has to say, and until a post-hearing vote, the jury is still out.

Bob Thompson is a councillor for Central Saanich.

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