Nearly 200 people came out to an unusual committee meeting April 22 at the Saanich Fairgrounds when Central Saanich council opened up the floor and invited the public to speak their minds on the proposed Future Growth Area (FGA) in the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) Regional Sustainability Strategy. More than 30 stepped up to the mic.
Many residents spoke out against the FGA, with concerns of food security, urban sprawl and future generations at the top of the list.
First introduced to the previous council in 2012 and reduced in size in November 2014, the FGA affects lands on West Saanich Road, north and south of Keating Cross Road. If approved, it would open the rural area to potential development for industrial, commercial and residential use.
None of the land is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, though 14 of the properties are designated farms for tax purposes.
“It’s the regional sustainability strategy, not the regional growth strategy,” said Ronnie Anderson, one of the first to address council.
That sentiment seemed to echo through the hall as others got up to raise concerns about struggling businesses throughout Saanichton and Brentwood Bay.
“There are many empty storefronts and buildings,” said Kathy Low, adding Central Saanich should encourage further development in the village centres and combat urban sprawl.
Many comments revolved around drought in California and the dwindling supply of fruits and vegetables coming up from the U.S., with more than a dozen residents expressing concern for their children and grandchildren’s futures.
For Ian Cameron, president of the Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich Society, food security is the biggest concern.
“The Saanich Peninsula is the only place in Canada where you can grow vegetables in the shoulder seasons.”
The mild climate here makes heating greenhouses a reasonable cost, giving the Peninsula the unique opportunity to not only support itself, but the whole Greater Victoria area, he said.
“Not all land that can be used to grow food is in the ALR. We really can’t afford to put buildings on land that in 20 or 30 years is going to be needed to grow vegetables.”
Questions also arose around water usage and how much tax income would be generated by a fully developed FGA, versus how much the District would have to put out in service costs.
Several residents were exceptionally passionate in their defence of the rural landscape and angry that council was considering the possibility of industrial development.
“It seems like every time we turn around we have to fight this battle again, and we’re tired of not being listened to,” said Sue Stroud. “It isn’t just California that’s in a state of drought. We need to be prepared to look after ourselves.”
Though outnumbered, there were a few distinct voices of support for the FGA coming from the residents.
“Farmers need to be supported,” said Dave Lang, adding that with farms having low tax rates, it’s industry that picks up the difference with higher mill rates and helps to subsidize farmers, something that may not remain possible because it’s nearly impossible to purchase new industrial land.
“I’m for it. For the ability to have it in the future,” continued Lang. “You need these to keep other things economical.”
James McNulty agreed.
“I know business owners who have bought 55 acres in Millstream because there was no space in Keating,” he said.
Densifying the Keating X Road industrial area will only work to a point until businesses run out of yard space, he added.
Approving major development in the area currently requires rezoning and unanimous approval from the CRD board of directors. If the FGA were to be adopted, it would mean that Central Saanich council would only need a majority approval from the CRD to be able to rezone for development.
“I see this as an opportunity to look toward the future, not tomorrow,” said Coun. Carl Jensen, emphasizing that adopting the FGA would not guarantee industrial or commercial development, just open up the possibility.
“I want to give us more opportunity to control our own destiny, should we make that decision. If we need to make a change, I want to put more power in the hands of the elected officials at the time,” he said.
With Central Saanich still receiving feedback from residents and the CRD receiving more than 1,600 responses from the public over the FGA, the decision is far from being made, said Mayor Ryan Windsor.
“The CRD will need to consider those submissions from the community and from the municipalities.”
He stressed that “council has the time to make any changes, or to remove the FGA completely.”
The next regular council meeting is May 4. Those interested in submitting correspondence to be included can do so until noon on April 29. Correspondence will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Monday, May 4.
For more information, visit centralsaanich.ca.