A proposed 40 unit development at 9395 East Saanich Rd is currently the centre of controversy in the deeply divided community of North Saanich. Those supporting the development are accused of desecrating the rural landscape with Langford-style sprawl, while those opposed are labelled ‘anti-development elitists’.
Increasing density is challenging for North Saanich, since there are no urban centers identified in the Official Community Plan (OCP) for future urban development. When crafting the OCP in 2007, North Saanich council (led by former Mayor Ted Daly), chose slow growth while maintaining rural character. Coun. Daly was quoted in the Times Colonist as saying, “…our council at the time took a position that basically made growth in North Saanich very, very restrictive.”
At its December 19, 2012 board meeting, the CRD Board considered an application by North Saanich to amend its OCP and Regional Context Statement (RCS), to accommodate the proposed 40 unit development. According to the CRD staff report, “The proponent also proposes laneway housing in this development, which would permit one secondary unit per lot, to a maximum of 80 units.”
By comparison, over the last 16 years, North Saanich has seen an average increase of 28 units per year.
Although the applicant has suggested reducing or eliminating laneway homes from the original proposal, the CRD staff maintains in their report, “…with or without secondary suites, the proposed development is at odds with the established rural character of North Saanich.”
Former Conservative MP Gary Lunn and his partner, developer Jim Hartshorne, President of the WestShore Developers Association, are promoting the project as ‘workforce housing’.
Mr. Lunn believes this project will benefit North Saanich residents and employers by allowing employees to live where they work. He states, “It is critically important that a community has all the demographics in the community – what will happen to our schools if there are no children here?”
Mr. Lunn acknowledges concerns over loss of green space and increased density.
“We are not trying to change the make-up of North Saanich. We are not taking one inch of land out of the ALR. We are doing this in the right place. We are surrounded by an area of similar density, close to public schools, public transit, Panorama – but right now we are talking about a rock pile, and we are going to make something beautiful”, says Mr. Lunn.
North Saanich Coun. Dunstan Browne wrote the Peninsula News Review last July supporting the project, stating,“…the impetus for the provision of workforce housing was driven by a group of local businesses...”
Fuelling the initiative, he cites a recent survey supplied by the business group. “We have been provided with unchallenged statistics that show over 2,000 people work in this area and only 500 actually live here because there is no available housing, apart from that which is prohibitively highly priced.” said Coun. Browne.
Resident Spring Harrison, speaking for a group of residents advocating moderate growth, questions the proponent’s statistics. He cites data from the 2006 census. “For North Saanich, 875 more workers live here than work here.”
Even when considering North Saanich and Sidney together, only 3.65% of the workforce live elsewhere, Harrison says – not demonstrating a need for workforce housing.
Neighbouring Sidney has always provided higher density housing, allowing North Saanich to maintain its rural and agricultural lands. This symbiotic relationship is embedded in both the Sidney and North Saanich Official Community Plans, explains Harrison.
To promote long term livability for the region, municipalities have growth projections for the year 2026, identified in the Regional Growth Strategy.
North Saanich Councillor Daly argued at the Dec19th, 2012 CRD Board meeting, that the potential 80 unit development does not put North Saanich over their year 2026 limit of 5100 units – even when considering other development applications.
Coun. Daly’s position was contradicted however, by a North Saanich staff report suggesting North Saanich may be currently reaching their year 2026 limit – with the active and pending development applications presently before staff.
The CRD staff report warned, “If these other applications materialize in the near future…The original policy intent of slow and moderate growth will not be upheld.”
Coun. Daly took issue with the North Saanich staff report, insisting the report was not approved by his council and therefore should not have been shared with the CRD.
A debate among the CRD Directors ensued, but in the end, the outcome was seemingly unscathed by reports or impassioned speeches, as the majority of CRD Directors voted in favor of the motion, clearing the way for the higher density project.
CRD Directors Vic Derman, Ben Isitt, Jane Mendum, John Ranns and Vicki Sanders were opposed.
CRD Director Leif Wergeland in supporting the motion states, “With every decision there really are trade-offs. There are times where you have to allow a municipality to amend their Regional Context Statement. The Regional Growth Strategy was never meant to be a fixed, inflexible document.”
CRD Chair and Mayor of Central Saanich Alastair Bryson also supported the motion and spoke to the ‘rigidity’ of the Regional Growth Strategy as being ‘cast in stone’ and eventually under enough pressure, “…the stone will break.” Attempts to contact Mayor Bryson for further clarification were unsuccessful by press time.
Clearly on the other side, CRD Director Vic Derman opposed the motion and fears this type of “one-off” development could create a dangerous precedent which would threaten the sustainability of the entire region. He believes the Regional Growth Strategy is the last remaining safeguard preventing urban sprawl and that exceptions such as the one proposed could result in “a death by a thousand cuts.”
While the controversial 9395 East Saanich Road development is proceeding, a parallel process is currently underway in North Saanich engaging residents in a Housing Strategy Implementation Plan to determine allowable housing densities for the entire district.
Only time will tell if North Saanich will advance either planned growth or unplanned spot rezoning as its vision for land management in the municipality.