Highway, housing and amalgamation will be on Saanich’s council agenda Monday

A busy agenda awaits Saanich councillors meet Monday.

Perhaps the most prolific item concerns plans by the provincial government for a highway berm near a Saanich park.

The berm set to be near Cuthbert Holmes Park is part and parcel of the McKenzie Interchange Project,the $85-million-project designed to improve traffic flow through the intersection of McKenzie Avenue and the Trans Canada Highway through a partial ‘cloverleaf’ ramp system.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) plans to build the berm out of soil that construction crews are currently excavating to lower the highway. Initial plans presented to the public in the spring called for a berm that would be 500 metres long and 14 metres above the existing ground level or 11 metres above the highway at its southern end, a figure prompting concerns from local environmentalists. They fear the berm poses a risk to Colquitz River, a salmon-bearing body of water, should it slump.

Provincial officials presenting plans for the berm faced tough, sometimes hostile questions at Saanich council earlier this month and their answers did not satisfy councillors, who asked staff to get some additional answers from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Staff have since prepared that report in asking council for additional direction. Key among the questions before councillors is whether Saanich should ask MOTI to build the berm with a 30-metre setback or a 35-metre setback from Colquitz River. If the berm were further away from Colquitz River, it would be of a lower height, but also include less fill and feature less landscaping.

Council will also receive the final report from the committee tasked with reviewing governance. The Governance Review Citizens Advisory Committee (GRCAC) emerged after nearly nine out of 10 voters supported a community-based review of Saanich’s governance structure and policies including its regional partnerships through the Capital Regional District (CRD).

Perhaps the report’s most controversial concerns its critique of council and the call for term limits. “The committee found that the [council] tends to react rather than lead, and tries to manage rather than govern,” it reads. “Also, accountability mechanisms are unclear. We believe there is the potential to do better.”

Specifically, the report calls for members of council to serve no more than two terms. “Term limits would resolve concerns that councillors go past their “best before” date; would permit fresh ideas and perspectives more frequently, and prevent what amounts to career politicians in Saanich,” it reads.

The report also addresses the question of amalgamation.

While the committee’s original mandate did not specifically address or ask questions about amalgamation, the subject looms large in the report, if only to underscore its complexity and the lack of consensus around it. “There wasn’t consensus on the [committee] about whether Saanich should pursue an amalgamation of some kind,” it reads. “However, there does seem to be a consensus that discussion on this topic shouldn’t be shied away from. We feel this is probably consistent with the views of the general population of Saanich, based on our consultations and community feedback.”

According to the report, Saanich residents appear to be all over the map when it comes to amalgamation. “We heard a wide-range of perspectives, including strong support for and against amalgamation, a desire to continue to pursue some for of shared services with adjacent municipalities, the acknowledgment that more study maybe needed on this issue and a desire to have a more specific question relating to amalgamation on the ballot in 2018,” it read.

As for specific recommendations concerning amalgamation, it calls on Saanich to lobby Victoria for the establishment a Citizens’ Assembly on Amalgamation with interested municipalities in the Greater Victoria Region and actively support and participate in the Assembly. “By agreeing to support the Citizens’ Assembly process, Saanich and the other municipalities should be required to take the findings of the process to referendum directly,” it reads.

Finally, council will consider revised plans for the re-development of Townley Lodge. Almost one year ago to the date, council indefinitely postponed a public hearing on an earlier version of the proposed re-development, citing concerns about the impact on the surrounding neighbourhood near Camosun College. The postponement earned council criticism from a coalition of business leaders and social activists. Others however noted that the development as proposed lacked social license. The process leading up the revised plans has also earned praise for its inclusiveness.

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