A Central Saanich councillor wants the district to take a more comprehensive look at single-family zoning.
Coun. Zeb King made that comment after council asked staff to present options for an OCP amendment and zoning to multi-family housing along Dignan Road. The unanimously approved motion also calls for public consultations with the neighbours.
Council earlier this year postponed a development proposal for 1193 Dignan Rd. pending completion of the OCP review, which “includes consideration of amending the land use designation on Dignan Road to higher density multi-family” as stated in the notice of motion. In other words, the area stands to lose its single-residential zoning.
While not unusual per se, the possibility appears against the backdrop of questions about the long-term viability of single-residential zoning in the face of housing supply issues and climate change, with a growing number of voices calling for an end to single-residential zoning.
The search for a formula that squares social needs with ecological realities appears especially pressing on the Saanich Peninsula, where small, isolated but increasingly dense pockets of urban development find themselves in an uncreasingly uneasy co-existence with larger, more rural residential lots and large swaths of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The current controversies around the OCP review in North Saanich point to the divisive potential of this problem.
It is against this backdrop that King calls for a more thorough examination of the issues around single-family zoning.
King said he is not calling for an end to single-family zoning, but points to the constraints facing the municipality.
“We are coming up gradually to the limits of (developable) land,” he said. “We have an Urban Containment Boundary. We are saying ‘no’ to expanding into farmland and fields and forested lands. So we are saying, ‘build inside (the UCB).’ And if there is no more land, where do you go?”
Historically, cities have responded by building up – in some cases way up – while trying to preserve single-family living, largely for political reasons. This phenomenon has appeared in the urban planning literature as the ‘missing middle’ — the almost complete absence of housing types that are more dense than traditional single-family homes but less imposing than the buildings increasingly dominating urban cores.
Concrete efforts to fill this missing middle have also been unfolding on the Saanich Peninsula, most recently in Sidney, where council endorsed a staff report recommending gentle infilling of residential neighbourhoods following a review of public feedback as part of the OCP review process. While the report appears to confirm public concerns about density in downtown Sidney specifically, public sentiment appears to favour higher density generally. Central Saanich’s council recent motion around Dignan Road points in a comparable direction.
King, for his part, is not blind to the potential blow-back. Increasing density has great potential to upset neighbourhoods, he said.
“No politician and nobody wants that to get people upset,” he said. But more immediate calculations must be balanced with the need for leadership and perspective, he added. “I feel too often we focus only on the voices today, because we don’t hear the voices of the future. But do we honestly think that the demand (for housing) will be less in 40 years? I think not.”
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