North Saanich has directed staff to begin work on drafting a new official community plan two months after the now-former chief administrative officer said staff would not be able to take on the significant project.
The move comes from a pair of recommendations made by the district’s new director of planning and community services Felice Mazzoni, which were unanimously approved by council following a nearly hour-long presentation during a regular meeting June 5.
Mazzoni recommended council direct staff to draft an OCP based on the details of his report to council, the work of the Mayor’s OCP Advisory Committee, other district committees and commissions, and OCP public engagement collected to date.
Council also added an amendment to his first recommendation that any public engagement using existing community groups, networks, associations, town halls and open houses be included in the draft.
Mazzoni also recommended he be designated staff liaison to several commissions and committees for the purposes of the OCP draft process.
During his presentation to council, Mazzoni said he has spent the first few weeks on the job meeting with community members, staff and council to discuss the OCP, and studied the work of staff and consulting firm Modus Planning, Design and Engagement Inc., which was working on a previous attempt to refresh the document, before the current council voted to restart the process.
While he praised the community engagement and raw data Modus and staff had collected under the previous effort, Mazzoni said there was a need for more data and engagement before a draft OCP could be created.
He also said that in his view, it is critical for that process to be as open and transparent with information as possible, especially later in the process when policy is developed and implemented.
“When you are creating an OCP, it is very important, if you are going to be talking about policy, you have to be very delicate and be able to easily explain both to council and the public how you made these recommendations. Where did they come from? How did they come to be?”
While council spent most of their discussion following Mazzoni’s presentation commending him on the thoroughness of his report, there were questions posed about staff’s ability to produce the draft OCP.
Mazzoni said he and a soon-to-be-hired senior planner will be able to produce the draft themselves, with the planner effectively working on the project full-time for the first 12 months on the job.
He said that in his estimated timeline for the project, additional data collection would be complete in September, a draft OCP produced between then and December, public consultation on the draft between January and April 2024, and the final document returning to council for consideration by May 2024.
He also said his aim is to accomplish this within the remaining budget of $49,100 as the senior planner’s salary of between $90,000 and $100,000 is already accounted for in department budgeting as they will be filling a vacant position, rather than a newly created one.
Mazzoni made it clear he would not be hiring a consultant to assist with the drafting of a new OCP, despite former CAO Tim Tanton telling council in April the district did not have sufficient staff to undertake such a project, and would recommend the hiring of a new consultant should council direct staff to take on the project themselves.