A majority of councillors in the District of North Saanich are fed up with roadblocks being thrown up against residential development proposals and said as much in a vote at the most recent council meeting.
Mayor Alice Finall raised a motion on Monday, Oct. 1 to halt any action on density issues — including hearing development proposals — in order for council to complete its public consultation process. It was an attempt, said some councillors, to put the brakes on the municipality’s approvals process and in the end did not pass.
“The mayor is trying to stall what we are trying to do,” said councillor Ted Daly, recalling his previous cries for a review of the official community plan, which failed at the time, but would have addressed the current issue of housing density.
“We’ve had this discussion before,” added coun. Dunstan Browne, saying by statute, the district has enough meetings to hear from the public on these issues.
“The problem with this motion … is that it’s wording … means nothing gets done.”
Finall’s motion, “that council complete the public consultation process prior to considering or taking any further steps with increases in density,” is about public input, she said.
“My concern is consultation with the people in this community,” she said, adding none has been done at all on the two recent development applications — on John Street and East Saanich Road.
“These have gone through council quite quickly,” Finall said, adding this is the case because they have convinced some councillors that they will offer workforce — or affordable — housing.
Yet, said the mayor, neither project addresses workforce housing at all.
“We are looking at dramatic density changes,” she said, “without any understanding that they are of benefit to this community. We should not be proceeding.”
Coun. Elsie McMurphy added the homes proposed in both of the current development applications will be selling for market value.
“There will never be a guarantee (by a developer) that those will be affordable,” she said.
McMurphy added she supports the mayor’s position, saying it’s important that council shows the public that consultation means something and that council shows them that respect.
“Council may not do what each (person) says, but at least we hear them.”
Daly responded by saying the two developments calling for increased density do benefit the community and will provide more family and workforce housing.
“This is an attempt to put the brakes on what the majority of council has already approved,” he said.
“We still have nothing in any of those proposals that do anything for workforce housing,” countered Finall, suggesting council needs to hold large public meetings — not just public hearings at council chambers — to get the public’s opinion on the district’s housing and growth strategies.
Coun. Celia Stock, also on the mayor’s side, said she’s not sure if these development proposals meet the standard for workforce housing that the district needs. As well, she said she’s concerned public input will fall on deaf ears.
“You can’t go to people with a prior mindset,” she said, “where everybody in the community knows you’ve already made up your mind.”
Coun. Craig Mearns added he wants the two project proposals — which he termed quite small — to proceed and “to see how they do.”
Coun. Conny McBride said the term ‘affordable’ is up to individuals and what they can afford. Yet, with workforce housing needed to keep industry in the area, “it’s needed here. It’s why people voted for us.”
In a 4-3 vote, the mayor’s motion failed.