Saanich council will resume debate on Natural Saanich Monday. It aims to replace the former Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw. (File photo)

Greater Victoria builders say Natural Saanich undermines housing affordability

Victoria Residential Builders Association says proposed EDPA replacement equals ‘appropriation’

The group representing home builders in Greater Victoria has come out against Saanich’s proposed replacement for the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw.

Victoria Residential Builders Association (VRBA) said on its website that Natural Saanich amounts to a form of “appropriation” that would undermine housing affordability.

“It’s a new spin-doctored name for the [EDPA] that was rescinded because it was unfair and costly for homeowners and builders,” it reads. “‘Natural Saanich’ sounds as if new housing is somehow ‘unnatural.’ The subtext is vacant land is good and development is bad.”

Casey Edge, VRBA’s executive director, said in a later interview that Saanich already has a strong tree protection bylaw that covers multiple areas. “Council has the final say in any new development application so more regulations like Natural Saanich only add costs to housing,” he said. “Saanich’s own survey revealed housing affordability is a main concern of residents.”

This critique comes as Saanich council meeting as committee-of-the-whole plans to resume debate around Natural Saanich on July 8.

Councillors had pressed the pause button on the debate in the early morning hours of June 11 following multiple hours of public input. Fearful of another “torturous experience” that could leave council and the community deeply divided less than one year after the last municipal election, Coun. Susan Brice had pushed for the pause in urging her colleagues to use the additional time to think about the issue.

RELATED: Saanich councillor warns of ‘torturous experience’ as they consider replacing EDPA

Members of the community have certainly used the time to lobby council, with private individuals, community organizations and other voices weighing into the debate.

At least three prominent academics with backgrounds in biology and conservation have raised their voice in favour of Natural Saanich – Briony Penn, a lecturer, author and founding member of the Land Conservancy of BC; Nancy Turner, a professor emeritus in environmental studies at the University of Victoria (UVIC); and Eric Higgs, a leading UVIC professor on the subject, with Higgs directly addressing Coun. Rebecca Mersereau, a supporter of the EDPA, who has signaled her opposition to Natural Saanich.

RELATED: Saanich community leader calls on council to support EDPA replacement

RELATED: Prominent academic calls on Saanich councillor to re-consider opposition to Natural Saanich

Perhaps representative of these offerings is Penn’s letter, in which she links local legislation with global efforts to climate change.

“We have signed international treaties on climate, biodiversity and indigenous rights,” she wrote in part. “They are all related and require all levels of government to cooperate. In the absence of a provincial species at risk legislation we only have far-sighted municipal councils passing bylaws to protect species and ecosystems that are about to disappear.”

VRBA, however, has made the argument that Natural Saanich represents an attempt to revive parts of the EDPA, which would, if implemented, affect housing affordability.

VRBA’s critique of Natural Saanich is part and parcel of the organization’s broader critique of Saanich’s approach towards housing. In months past, the organization has questioned Saanich’s commitment towards addressing housing affordability, as it attacked the municipality’s proposal to raise development cost charges — a development that might be pushed back — and other initiatives designed to curb climate change. VRBA has repeatedly denounced them as ineffective and expensive, charges Saanich has rejected.

Edge said climate change is a serious global issue requiring global solutions, such as nuclear power, advancements in technology, and perhaps trade sanctions. “But too often, climate change is used as an opportunity for local officials to score political points passing ineffective regulations and driving up housing costs, an issue over which local governments actually have some control,” he said. “Those arguing ‘Natural Saanich’ will deal with climate change are either ignoring the data or are unaware. Canada’s contribution to global carbon emissions is 1.6 per cent.”

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