Consultant interviews to be public

North Saanich council agrees to make housing consultant meetings public; will pay more for consultation program

North Saanich is okay with more than doubling the cost of their housing strategy consultation program, but less so with the frequency of private meetings being conducted in the process.

District council unanimously approved on Jan. 14 a request from consultant Ed Grafone to up his consulting fee from $18,600, to $38,500. Grafone, of CTQ Consultants Ltd. out of Kelowna, had made the request to revise the budget on Dec. 20, 2012 (and updated Jan. 7, 2013), citing the addition of a second public open house and an increase in the demand for one-on-one interviews.

Council awarded CTQ the consulting job last year and had Grafone present his consultation program on Dec. 10. The original terms of reference for the community consultative process were presented to council on Sept. 17, 2012.

In a Jan. 8, 2013 staff report, the consultant had told staff that a large amount of public and political interest in the housing issue “will require expanded communications, preparation for meetings and additional work.”

At its committee of the whole meeting Jan. 14, council and residents in the audience questioned the need for one-on-one interviews, with some calling on them to be made public.

Councillor Ted Daly said he was concerned with the meetings, mostly with their use of the consultant’s time.

“I expect that the consultant will tell people there are no more opportunities for such meetings, as the budget has to be adhered to,” Daly said.

Mayor Alice Finall agreed, adding it will be up to Grafone to use his discretion on the number and type of meetings and should seek a balance.

During a public question period on the matter, resident Springfield Harrison said he objects to the one-on-one meetings.

“I want them ended and I want them made public,” he said.

Resident David Olsen agreed, saying they should be made public.

Coun. Elsie McMurphy recommended that lists of stakeholders being interviewed, as well as a list of people in the one-on-ones with Grafone — called “key informants” by staff — be made public.

Director of planning and community services Mark Brodrick noted that such interviews are common in consultation and the lists of groups and individuals are, in part, being generated by staff as well.

McMurphy asked that council support putting this information on the district’s website and they agreed, with Coun. Craig Mearns the lone dissenter.

Grafone was hired to take the district and its residents through a consultation on a potential update to the municipality’s housing planning policy. There are plans now for two public open houses, two focus group meetings and two neighbourhood meetings. The plan is to draft a report on a “new planning policy regarding higher density housing in North Saanich.”

Brodrick noted that the consultant will be giving people an overview of the current issues and process in the district.

Coun. Dunstan Browne added part of Grafone’s job will be to assist with any changes to the district’s strategic plan and with any impacts on Capital Regional District policies.

Harrison added concerns he and a concerned citizens group at odds with increased development expressed over the process back in December — regarding bias and stakeholder groups — have so far been unheeded.

“I’m concerned with just who are these forces groups,” added resident Jack Thorneberg. “I wonder if they represent a broad spectrum of the community.”

Daly said that people shouldn’t second-guess the consultant’s expertise.

“We’re starting to really pick this poor guy apart,” he said, “and he isn’t even done yet.”

Finall agreed, noting that she hopes all of council will be at the open houses as well.

The first public open house is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 29, 4 to 8 p.m. at the Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church, 9295 East Saanich Rd.

First open house Jan. 29

The question of developing higher density housing in the District of North Saanich goes to the public for feedback for the first time on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

This is the initial public step in the district’s housing strategy community consultation process. The open house will be held at the Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church between 4 and 8 p.m.

There are further plans for neighbourhood meetings, focus groups and another open house, before a consultant prepared a final draft report for council. Dates and times for those meetings have not yet been announced, but are expected in February and March.

• The focus groups, according the the district, include one for industry (developers/realtors), the Victoria Airport Authority and the chamber of commerce. Another focus group will include employees, prospective buyers and renters.

• Two neighbourhood meeting are planned for residents in areas where higher densities are being proposed: the Southeast Quadrant and McDonald Park Road. All community residents are encouraged to attend these neighbourhood meetings.

 

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