A recent letter writer refers to rules being “skirted” in regard to the approval of the “mega” 11-storey Doral Forest Park proposal on Elk Lake Drive, meaning, I think, the land-use policies in Saanich’s Official Community Plan and Royal Oak’s Local Area Plan.
The update of Royal Oak’s LAP was temporarily paused by this council but it is not ‘cancelled’, and Saanich’s OCP is alive and well. Yet the approved proposal allows multiple extremely excessive variances to density, height, width, parking and tree removal and other items that are drawn outside the guidelines of official documents. It is excessively non-compliant with the OCP in many other ways, such as its location. All of this non-compliance is well-documented by Saanich Planning’s reports and through public input from Saanich residents and outside sources.
Was the intent of the local area plan meant to give some reasonable flexibility to approve a proposal that needed some adjustments to help it fit? Was it meant to be used in a spirit of trust and collaboration? One would like to think so. Surely it was not intended to give councils carte blanche to disregard their own land-use policies, as well as the many concerns raised through voluminous, well-informed public input, to approve a proposal that requires so many excessively large variances that is is obviously too far from a fit.
The decision by the majority of Saanich council to approve the Doral Forest Park proposal feels like a watershed moment. Residents who once felt some confidence that Saanich policies would provide reasonable certainty regarding future development in their neighbourhoods must now wonder about that. Can we any longer reasonably expect that this or future councils will exercise their authority and discretion in a way that will try to preserve the quality of life in our areas? There is no expiry date on the OCP and local area plans but this decision has rendered them vulnerable and potentially meaningless.
I think the author of the letter was incorrect on one point. Most Saanich councillors did not “skirt” the rules. They threw them to the wind. Perhaps it is time to explore the intent of the legal authority granted to Saanich council to amend the rules.