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North Saanich clears the way for more development

A large crowd spent four hours debating the merits of additional housing development in North Saanich Monday night at the Mary Winspear Centre. - Steven Heywood
A large crowd spent four hours debating the merits of additional housing development in North Saanich Monday night at the Mary Winspear Centre.
— image credit: Steven Heywood

In a decision that surprised no one, North Saanich council's majority voted to pave the way for residential developments of increased density the likes of which the community hasn't seen in recent years.

A public hearing on seven zoning, development and official community plan bylaws Monday night drew a full house at the Bodine Hall at the Mary Winspear Centre. Twenty-four people went to the microphone right at the start to voice their opinions and their support for or against the changes. In all, 79 people spoke at the hearing and taking the meeting past 11 p.m.

A question on a few of the speakers' minds who opposed the amendments, was would the council be open to different views and somehow change their long-held positions? For veterans of the political process in North Saanich, that was just not in the cards.

Supporters of change in the municipality, many of whom are involved in property development, applauded and cheered as a series of 4-2 votes changed the district's Regional Growth Strategy, OCP and approved phased development agreements for two projects consisting of 164 residential units and carriage homes.

Councillor Dunstan Browne, part of what is generally seen as the pro-development majority of four at the table, said he has listened to people but was unmoved.

"I have heard nothing that would convince me otherwise," he said. "This has gone on for nearly all of the time this council term. It's time to make a decision."

Coun. Conny McBride added minds on both sides of the council table were made up years ago.

"It's important for North Saanich to move forward," she said. "It's important to have a diverse community."

Coun. Ted Daly said not everyone in North Saanich is against this kind of change and claimed emails, speakers and other submissions showed a majority of people communicating directly with the district supported growth.

"We were elected to do a job," Daly said, noting the issue goes back 11 or 12 years and has not been rushed by this council or any other.

"It took this council two-and-a-half years. What we are doing is making this a more inclusive community and I'm proud of that."

Coun. Craig Mearns, part of the majority, also expressed support for the amendments.

Mayor Alice Finall, together with councillors Celia Stock and Elsie McMurphy (who was not at the public hearing), has been leading the resistance to increased development in North Saanich. she said over the last dozen years, council has responded to the wishes of the community and voted against increasing density allowances and a variety of housing projects.

"I'm just not buying that any of these projects will lead to affordable or workforce housing," she said, indicating the lobbying efforts of local industrial businesses in recent years to seek housing for their many employees. "I continue to oppose this."

Finall disputed Daly's claims about the level of support from citizens, making her own claim that the tally favoured people who do not support the changes.

Coun. Stock added she, too, remained opposed to the bylaw amendments.

"My reason hasn't changed from the very beginning," Stock said "I'm OK with some development, but this just feels like it's too much."

The vote approved growth strategy and OCP amendments to allow increased housing density in two areas of North Saanich — between Canora and Rideau roads and along McDonald Park Road.

The phased development plans for the two housing projects must still be approved by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways prior to council's final adoption.

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