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

Public heard a diverse range of view from councillors about process, substance of OCP review
North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr countered criticisms of the municipality’s OCP review, but raised the possibility of revisions in the future. (Black Press Media File)

North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr said the current review of the Official Community Plan (OCP) may pause and undergo revisions while countering claims that the development community is controlling the process.

“I think what we are going to see with the OCP (review) is an opportunity for council to assess based on the (public health office) guidelines and what we have heard over these next three months to see whether we want to restructure a little bit the fall engagement, whether we want to pause parts, re-jig them, whether we want things midstream to come back to council for comment — all those things are still very much possible,” said Orr.

Orr made these comments as part of a broader public appeal designed to defuse tensions in the community around the OCP review process and deflect pressure from municipal officials working with the consultant overseeing the review process. But he also challenged claims appearing on social media and submissions to the municipality that the development community — specifically the Urban Development Institute (UDI) — are in charge of the review process.

“It’s not controlling the process, there is no evidence to support that,” he said.

The public heard these comments from Orr as councillors accepted 39 public submissions around the OCP review process, many of them critical of the substance, process or both. Council also accepted separate submissions from UDI and the North Saanich Residents’ Association, with Coun. Celia Stock voting against receiving the UDI report. “It’s biased against farming,” said Stock.

The submissions themselves follow the release of a report that identifies six big concepts, including the concept of neighbourhood nooks (Queen Mary Bay, Fickle Fig, Ardmore Golf Course, Dean Park, The Terraces around Allegro Performing Arts), a community hub in the Deep Cove neighbourhood and a McTavish Village Centre. The other three concepts speak of blue-green networks, agricultural hubs and sensitive infilling.

Coun. Heather Gartshore said the concepts represent a “dramatic departure” from the current OCP, while Coun. Murray Weisenberger said the concepts shocked him. But unlike Gartshore, Weisenberger signalled greater support for them.

Monday’s debate revealed a wide range of opinions among members of council about the OCP review.

“I’m not confident that I can support the OCP process,” said Coun. Jack McClintock in calling for more face-to-face public engagement.

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Stock said she can understand why people may be upset with the OCP review, but also told the public that it has just started as it wraps up the second of a five-phase process.

She also signalled her opposition to additional development. “I chose to live in North Saanich for the very reasons that people are writing in about,” she said. While people want some change, new housing is not a priority, she said, a statement later challenged by Orr.

Weisenberger also challenged the idea that North Saanich council has fallen into the pockets of developers. “I see no rabid developers around the council table and it’s disappointing that the public has no faith in us,” he said.

Coun. Brett Smyth said he favours “reasonable change” and challenged the view that the role of North Saanich is to use rather than supply services to Greater Victoria.

North Saanich can also not expect other communities in the Capital Regional District to shoulder the burden of population growth, he said. He added that North Saanich has an opportunity in two locations for what he called “sensitive in-filling” and “densification to some degree.”

Council will consider the OCP review again on July 12 with staff preparing a report on the latest phase available to the public on July 5. The OCP review will enter the third phase in the fall of 2021.

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