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Changes coming to North Saanich’s OCP review process

A motion to stop review failed but changes lie ahead
This was the scene Monday night outside municipal hall as Save North Saanich held a rally calling on council to halt the OCP review process. (Photo courtesy of Paige Gibson)

A move designed to temporarily stop the Official Community Plan (OCP) review in North Saanich failed, but the public can likely expect to see changes in the fall.

Mayor Geoff Orr joined Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger in defeating a motion from Coun. Celia Stock, supported by Coun. Jack McClintock, to stop current activity on the review until directed by council to re-start following the lifting of all COVID 19 restrictions.

“We need to have a way for council and staff to try to alter this process so that we can have the community more on board,” Stock said before the vote.

She had earlier said residents feel attacked by the review in terms of its substance and not heard in terms of the process.

“What’s the hurry?” asked McClintock. “I would hate to provide the public with an OCP that isn’t the best we can do.”

But this argument did not find a majority. Weisenberger said he is confident the municipality can give the process direction without having to stop it entirely, a point shared by Orr, who had earlier praised the process for bringing some valuable information.

RELATED: Community group calls on North Saanich to stop OCP review

Stock’s motion came after council heard a lengthy presentation from Robert Barrs, principal with MODUS, the consulting company the municipality has hired. Broadly, the presentation summarized the engagement process so far and presented the six broad-themed concepts distilled out of that process in asking for additional direction.

These concepts include sensitive infilling to supply for more diverse forms of housing (including housing for seniors to age in place), a community hub in the Deep Cove neighbourhood and the development of a village centre focused on the area around the McTavish and East Saanich roads intersection.

RELATED: North Saanich considers revisions to OCP process as Mayor Geoff Orr counters criticism

These concepts have drawn criticisms from various North Saanich residents, perhaps none as vociferously as the people who participated in the rally organized by Save North Saanich outside municipal hall Monday night. Paige Gibson, a member of the group, said somewhere between 250 and 275 people attended the rally.

Critics like Save North Saanich said the review (with its perceived emphasis on housing) threatens the rural character of North Saanich. Others, however, have noted North Saanich suffers from a lack of affordable housing. This rift played itself out in council chambers.

Gartshore said North Saanich already offers many of the housing options (minus assisted living and long-term care) proposed by the review so far, noting that Sidney provides housing missing from North Saanich. Smyth, however, made a plea for what he called “moderate development” in questioning the willingness of North Saanich to change.

“This is a very staid, keep-it-as-it-is community and I think this is where this process has failed, and it may have something to do with some lack of understanding about the community on MODUS behalf,” he said.

RELATED: Survey finds little support for increased density in North Saanich

Weisenberger argued no level of consultation will satisfy groups such as Save North Saanich, whom he accused of being opposed for the sake of being opposed. “One more dog house is too much for some people and that’s the way it is.”

He did acknowledge the process can only go forward with compromises and urged the consultant to dial back what he called the “bold ideas” found in the review so far.

Council later passed a trio of motions, which among other elements, called on staff to supplement the report delivered Monday with additional information explaining how the six concepts had emerged, review the engagement plan with an eye toward potential changes for the future, and schedule a workshop between council and the consultant for additional review and discussion around the concepts, including their possible revision or even elimination as the process moves forward.

RELATED: North Saanich asked to create more affordable, diverse housing

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