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Saanich OCP headed for public hearing, lines being drawn over tall buildings

Thorny subject of where to increase housing density already raising eyebrows
Saanich Municipal Hall on Vernon Avenue in November, 2023. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Saanich council shepherded the new Official Community Plan (OCP) toward its final stages on Monday (Feb. 23), while also adding in a somewhat controversial amendment that opens up the possibility of 18-storey buildings in the Quadra-McKenzie area.

The amendment would create the possibility for the rezoning of two properties on McKenzie Avenue and one on Gordon Head Road to allow 18-storey residential towers, provided they are used for non-profit affordable housing.

After the Monday meeting, this draft of the OCP has now passed through two readings and can go on to a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing before being voted on for final adoption.

The OCP is a guiding document for future councillors to use to align their zoning decisions but does not create specific zoning bylaws. Any actual building proposals would still need to be approved for rezoning on a case-by-case basis.

There is also no specific proposal on the table to develop these properties that are being considered at this time.

This still drew the ire of Coun. Colin Plant, who said he had once lived at one of these addresses and spoke about how out of place a large tower would be.

“Suggesting 18 storeys at 1821 (McKenzie Avenue) is incomprehensible to me,” Plant said. “If you look at the Saanich map of what’s currently there, it is single-family housing in all directions.”

Other councillors made the point that because no firm decisions are being made at this moment, there is no harm in maintaining future flexibility for development by keeping in the possibility of big buildings.

The Quadra-McKenzie amendment did pass, adding to other places where large buildings would be allowed under this OCP, which also includes areas near transit hubs, as well as the University Centre and Tillicum-Burnside area. The largest buildings —up to 24 storeys — would be allowed in Uptown-Douglas.

In addition to the debate over building height at these locations, some broader battle lines were being drawn.

Several members of the public, along with at least one councillor, appear to be arguing for a future Saanich in which development is spread throughout the community, versus the idea that density should only be increased along arterial roads and within population centres, which is the direction of this new OCP draft.

“Arterials are noisy, they’re dangerous, they’re polluted, they’re genuinely not very nice places to be,” Saanich resident Jack Sandor said during the public comment period about his desire for what he called a “flat city approach” to spreading density across the district.

Plant seemed surprised by this and expressed this was the first time he had heard anyone say they wanted high-density housing outside of arterial roads and commercial centres.

But Coun. Zac de Vries said the provision of greater diversity in Saanich neighbourhoods is “long overdue.”

The public will have an opportunity to give feedback on these issues and more in a public hearing, which will be scheduled after the Agricultural Lands Commission has an opportunity to weigh in on the document and refer it back to the council.

About the Author: Mark Page

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