Saanich residents will finally get a chance to comment on a long-awaited report into a controversial bylaw designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs).
Saanich has scheduled a special council for Saturday, Oct. 28 at Pearkes Recreation Centre Fieldhouse starting at 10 a.m. to consider Diamond Head Consulting’s report into the future of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. The meeting has no fixed end time and could continue at a later date.
Saanich received the report in July this year after commissioning it in May 2016 to improve (rather than eliminate) the bylaw after residents had raised concerns about its economic effects, ecological effectiveness and process.
Council delayed receiving public input until after the byelection last month to fill the seat left vacant since the death of Vic Derman, a supporter of the EDPA. Karen Harper – an outspoken critic of the EDPA, who has since assumed office – won that seat by 102 votes ahead of Rebecca Mersereau, who has been generally supportive of the EDPA.
Harper’s presence on council could fundamentally change the dynamic concerning the EDPA. While previous council votes prior to Derman’s death had consistently gone against the EDPA, as it did in June when council temporarily excluded all single-residential properties from the EDPA following a day-long public hearing in May, critics like Coun. Colin Plant had also left themselves some room. Harper, however, won in part because she openly campaigned against the EDPA.
The final report itself calls on Saanich to improve the “shared understanding” of the “intent and purpose” of the bylaw, which stands accused of encouraging a detrimental “acrimonious social discourse” that has caused rifts within the community.
“It has become evident to our team through engagement that the district, public, developers and environmental professionals will need to make efforts to rebuild trust in the EDPA bylaw and process to move forward with the protection of ESAs on private property, and that this need will not be resolved solely by implementing the recommendations of this review,” the report reads.
Overall, the report calls for 15 recommendations that aim to revise several defects in the EDPA. Some of the recommendations spell out ways to improve implementation of the EDPA, while others improve and clarify the bylaw itself.
The EDPA has become the subject of much controversy and the report bears bad news for those who might have hoped that it signals the end of various EDPA controversies. “Full implementation of some recommendations will require additional detail beyond the scope of this review, including additional stakeholder engagement,” it read.
That engagement begins on Oct. 28.