North Saanich will start drafting a new Official Community Plan (OCP) without consideration of housing, after a narrow 4-3 vote by council Monday night.
Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger voted to approve a motion asking staff to base the draft OCP on five themes, none of which were housing and affordability. Those themes include agriculture and food systems, marine and land-based natural environment, climate action, healthy communities and jobs and the local economy.
“We have to move forward in some way, shape or form and there is nothing else on the table,” Pearson said.
The decision means members of the public not already involved in the review will not be able to participate in engagement opportunities recommended by staff, under a revised phase 3 engagement process prior to the creation of a partial draft.
Council’s choice also means the OCP review process could push into 2023.
“As mentioned last time, we do believe that we’ve got enough information (from prior engagement) to allow us to go forward to draft that partial OCP excluding housing and affordability, and present that to council for consideration at the beginning of July,” said Brian Green, North Saanich’s director of planning and community services.
Council at that time could choose to simply receive the partial draft, move it forward to public engagement after receiving it, or simply park it until 2023 for the new council, he said.
Monday’s decision also means the partial draft OCP will exclude land use including the type, density and location of residential development – something staff called the “core basis” of an OCP.
An OCP is essentially a land-use document, Green said, and because housing is the dominant land use in North Saanich, it becomes the most “crucial” issue in the review. The future of housing in North Saanich will shape other crucial issues, including climate change and agriculture, among others, he added. Dealing with housing later would also lead to additional costs.
A representative for MODUS, the consulting company handling the OCP review, said the chapters of the partial draft could include comments outlining implications for housing.
Coun. Jack McClintock, who joined Mayor Geoff Orr and Coun. Celia Stock in voting against the motion, questioned going ahead with the partial drafting.
“The mistakes we made in the past when it comes to the trust of the public was not having engagement,” McClintock said. “Now, we are talking about saving money, not having an engagement (process) and moving this forward quickly.”
Following the vote, Orr said it gives staff some direction, but also acknowledged that the OCP review “hangs by a thread.” Commenting on a letter expressing frustration, he said council is also tired. Orr pushed back against a letter writer deeply critical of the process, saying “really corrosive language and dialogue” is not helpful in moving the process forward. Contrary to the latter writer’s claim, he insisted that council is not in the pockets of developers.
“It has never been the case,” he said. “It never will be the case for this council.”
Orr said he and the rest of council are doing everything in their power to listen to the whole community. “The notion that when we receive correspondence from a segment of the community and that therefore we must do what that particular segment says, is not a realistic assessment of our roles as elected officials.”
Council is trying its best to balance competing interests in the community, Orr said, and is not trying to use the COVID-19 pandemic to stifle public participation and debate.
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