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New Saanich cell tower to go next to old one a win for conservationists

District councillors go against staff recommendation and err on the side of protecting park aesthetics
A mock-up created by Darrell Wick of the PKOLS - Mount Douglas Conservancy of the old tower next to the new design, with both compared to Layritz tower, which is currently Saanich’s tallest. (Image courtesy Darrell Wick)

Saanich council has sided with conservation groups and ordered the replacement cell tower atop PKOLS (formerly Mount Douglas) be placed right next to the old one, which is set to be decommissioned.

“Council’s decision for the summit tower location is a win-win,” said Darrell Wick of the PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy. “They get their tower and the park is saved.”

District staff had advised council place the tower in the current parking lot area, which they said would save money, better protect the environment and be more safe for workers.

But a strong vocal opposition from local residents — and a co-ordinated letter-writing campaign — helped convince councillors to go against those recommendations and avoid what those groups insisted would be a blow to the aesthetic value of the park.

At the May 27 council meeting, Mayor Dean Murdock expressed his support for keeping the tower in the same place, saying that despite higher construction costs, in the long-term it is the better choice.

“But I can appreciate that there’s going to be some work required in order to make that happen,” he said.

Wick’s group and others had argued that if the new tower were placed in the parking lot, it would be the dominant site as people crested the hill and came to the park’s main viewpoint.

The old tower is about 20 metres uphill and to the left, out of the way for visitors.

There was some discussion at the Monday council meeting about the negative environmental impact of placing the tower next to the old one, with staff arguing it would require the building of a road and cutting down several mature trees that could include five to six Douglas fir, one Arbutus and one Garry oak.

But a consultant who attended via video-link said that alternatives to building a road are potentially possible if large cranes are brought in.

It is still unclear if a temporary road would need to be built and if that would require any tree removal. Some councillors expressed they needed more information about what exactly those impacts will be.

Another question mark is how tall the tower will need to be now that it is to be built in the old location. The parking lot area is lower in elevation than the old site, so the tower was going to be built taller. Now that it will be up a bit higher, it may be able to be built smaller.

Staff were non-committal on this though, saying only that it could possibly be “some metres” shorter.

The motion to put the tower next to the old one against staff advice was brought by Coun. Colin Plant and the vote was unanimous.

“I don’t want to be a part of counsel that potentially ruins an iconic view,” Plant said.

Now that his group has gotten what they want in terms of location, Wick is now turning his attention to arguing for a smaller tower.

“This thing is enormous,” Wick said. “I just think we need to bring that to the council’s and the public’s attention.”

On Wednesday morning, a district spokesperson said Saanich will be further investigating the logistics of the location to determine the best course of action to minimize impact.

READ MORE: Saanich encounters staunch opposition at open house on PKOLS cell tower