Is North Saanich ready for 30 houses per hectare (13.5 houses per acre)? That is the density that is being proposed at 9395 East Saanich Road, a 1.8 hectare triangular shaped piece of property bordered by East Saanich, Canora and Willingdon Roads, in the southeast quadrant of North Saanich.
The proposed development is one of a number being considered by North Saanich Council, as part of an initiative to increase densities to deliver workforce housing. According to a recent Staff Report, “there is the potential to add over 200 new residential units and/or lots.” The Official Community Plans of North Saanich and Sidney acknowledge a symbiotic relationship between the two communities, which perhaps points to the need for a look at the bigger picture, with a number of high density proposals also planned for Sidney.
North Saanich resident Eve Kerr objects to what she believes will be significant changes to the OCP, without extensive consultation taking place prior to building. “Amending the OCP one proposal at a time ignores the big picture. How are developments evaluated against the OCP?”
Gary Lunn, a partner in the project, is clearly excited about what he sees as a great opportunity for North Saanich to diversify its housing stock, and provide new homes for young families. Lunn claims that there is an “enormous demand” for this type of housing, based on a couple of recent surveys, and is targeting those who are working on the northern part of the Peninsula, commuting from elsewhere.
“Will these homes be exclusively for younger families? No. But that would be our target,” says Lunn. “We can’t guarantee who’s going to buy.”
This is a subdivision of 40 lots; the majority could accommodate a suite, although Lunn’s intention is to restrict that number to approximately 10. These homes will be on lots averaging 320 m2, similar to the Westhills Development in Langford. By way of comparison, the average lot size at the corner of Mills and West Saanich Road is 816 m2.
Lunn indicates that he is planning for prices ranging between $399,000 and $525,000. For the 72% of respondents to the Sidney/North Saanich Industrial Group Survey who have an average income between $50,000 – $80,000, that could prove to be a stretch. According to mortgage broker Hein Moes, “Due to recent mortgage rule changes, first time buyers with a minimum 5% down payment will have to be financially stronger to qualify for home purchases of $400,000 and up.”
As the proposed density is inconsistent with the North Saanich Official Community Plan (OCP), Zoning Bylaws and the Regional Growth Strategy, amendments are required, and a property specific Public Hearing will be held. Given that the OCP is intended to guide and direct decision-making on all aspects of land use and development within the District of North Saanich, and is recognized as an important statement of community values and goals, residents might question council’s decision to proceed with the plan.
Says Councillor Craig Mearns, “I see some need for a small amount of this type of housing for people working in North Saanich. I’ve been told people working around the airport can afford it. I don’t know if they can; I hope so. If we’re going to try it, it’s a good place to go for it.”
Councillor Celia Stock is frustrated with the direction things are headed, particularly “the lack of community consultation.” At the moment, numerous development applications are being considered concurrently. Council’s intention is to hear from the public in the coming months, but according to Stock, “By then it will be too late. A number of questions remain unanswered, specifically visitor parking, which should be contained within the development. What is this development going to look like? We’ve never seen a 3D rendering. If we are very serious about attainable housing for our young working families, then developers, such as Gary Lunn, should think about donating a couple of lots to Habitat for Humanity. This is just market housing. Let’s call it that.”
Following the 2011 Municipal Election, “Councillors called me….we talked about this…..they made campaign commitments,” says Lunn. Mearns echoed this sentiment at a recent Council meeting: “As Councillors Daly and Browne have said, we basically promised our residents that we would do certain things when we got elected.”
Did North Saanich residents understand this to mean significant increases from the current zoning regulations? Presumably, the upcoming public hearing will answer that question.