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Familiar critics accuse North Saanich of ignoring public concerns about density

Public correspondence also shows support for more housing in community
A village centre concept for the area around McTavish and East Saanich roads is being considered by the District of North Saanich among possible updates to the official community plan. (Google Street View)

The review of the official community plan (OCP) in North Saanich finds itself between phases with council previously hearing calls to scrap the process. But the public also heard signals of confidence in the process with correspondence suggesting that supporters of the review and its concepts are getting more vocal.

Council voted unanimously to receive a revised version of the report that summarizes engagement during the second phase of the report and describes the policy directions. Council had earlier asked MODUS, the company conducting the review, to resubmit the document following its initial presentation in the summer.

Those concepts included sensitive infilling to supply more diverse forms of housing, including for seniors to age in place; a community hub in the Deep Cove neighbourhood; and the development of a village centre around the McTavish and East Saanich roads intersection.

The document drew extensive criticism from members of the public claiming that it undermines the rural character of North Saanich and its larger role in Greater Victoria as a preserve for agriculture and green space. While a motion to stop the process failed, council nonetheless asked consultants to expand their rationale behind the report. Council later met with the company to review the emerging concepts, which led to revisions.

But the revisions did not go far enough for many members of the public, who spoke during Monday’s council meeting and added to the already large volume of letters on the process.

RELATED: North Saanich council asks OCP consultants to revise key concepts

RELATED: Changes coming to North Saanich’s OCP review process

Don Enright, a familiar critic of the review, called the revised report a trimmed-down version of the earlier report in arguing that its concepts would still lead to more development. “It seems entirely disingenuous to offer these ideas as something now or offer these ideas as self-limiting,” he said. He also accused the municipality of being unresponsive. “You may have heard, but you are not listening,” he said. North Saanich should scrap the process, he said, in drawing applause from the audience.

Paige Gibson offered a comparable critique. Instead of toning down densification, she said the document actually extends the proposed village centre around McTavish and East Saanich roads and still speaks of more density in the Deep Cove neighbourhood.

She also expressed disappointment that the Urban Development Institute — an object of particular scorn among critics of the OCP review — remains listed as a stakeholder. She also suggested that the municipality is rushing the process as the schedule calls for a draft of the new OCP by July 2022. “I really question the wisdom of carrying on something that seems to be based on such flawed ideas,” she said.

But these calls to terminate the process did not resonate among councillors, or at least not on Monday, as they received the report. Councillors, however, chose to postpone decisions on four subsequent motions that will consider items such as future funding for the process and the future engagement process as well as specific land use options.

Perhaps the loudest voice of concern came from Coun. Patricia Pearson, who said she was not yet ready to see the OCP review move to the third phase.

The public heard a clear signal of confidence in the process from Mayor Geoff Orr. “I’m certainly comfortable with what has been presented to us,” he said.

Correspondence received by council Monday also paints a more diverse picture than one might have expected.

“We as a community need to support the greater good, and the greater good calls for more housing options everywhere in Greater Victoria, including North Saanich. North Saanich needs some additional housing, in part for our First Nations neighbours who face a terrible housing shortage, in part for workers who staff businesses here and in part for those of us who would like our children to be able to live in our community,” said Tom Gore.

Curtis Smith offered a similar perspective. He said if North Saanich wants to do something about climate change, it should do more to create affordable housing to eliminate the thousands of workers who commute to the community. “I especially like the concept of small family unit homes near Deep Cove. Close to work, school, shopping and transportation (bus),” said Smith.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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