Stefanie Cepeda is part of a group that has launched a petition asking voters to support candidates in the upcoming municipal election that support the preservation of green spaces. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Stefanie Cepeda is part of a group that has launched a petition asking voters to support candidates in the upcoming municipal election that support the preservation of green spaces. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich group urges voters to put green thumb on political scale

Petition aims to prevent the loss of green space in the face of development

A group of Saanich residents fighting to preserve a Garry oak ecosystem in their neighourhood have expanded their preservation efforts by launching a petition that asks elected officials to keep Saanich green.

Stefanie Cepeda, a spokesperson for the group, said the petition reflects the growing concern that Saanich is favouring development ahead of the natural environment.

Saanich is not moving fast enough to replace a rescinded bylaw designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs), and unless something changes now against the backdrop of rapid growth, Saanich risks losing its few remaining green and natural spaces in little time, she said.

“It’s almost now or never,” said Cepeda, in describing the perceived urgency of the situation.

The petition — which launched two weeks ago — asks signatories to commit themselves to “voting for candidates who will KEEP SAANICH GREEN” in the upcoming municipal election Oct. 20.

“There is strength in numbers, and only a few hundred votes can change the results of a municipal election,” it reads.

The petition — which has so far drawn 149 signatories — is at least the second of its kind that has launched in recent weeks.

Activists earlier this summer launched a campaign that urges Saanich council to work with regional and provincial authorities to purchase and perserve a piece of green space that B.C. Hydro plans to sell as surplus.

The five-acre lot at 1843 Kings Road is said to be the largest remaining unprotected natural space in southern Saanich, where it has become a popular recreation space and commuting corridor for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

But its future use remains uncertain, and several voices have argued that the general preservation of green space will be crucial as Saanich incrases residential density.

“We must not pit green space preservation against housing development,” the petition reads. “Progressive cities do both. They create more housing and preserve green space as the number of residents increases.”

Cepeda cited that specific effort to preserve ‘Kings Park’ as evidence that the public wants Saanich to do more than just encourage development. Elected officials need to look at the bigger picture, she said.

Cepeda, meanwhile, said she and others in her North Quadra neighbourhood remain in the dark about plans for a subdivision in an area once subject to a bylaw designed to protect sensitive ecosystems.

Love Developments plans to 12 units on land once subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw rescinded earlier this year. According to the official description, the applicant plans to consolidate four existing lots on Milner Avenue, then subdivide them.

According to Cepeda, the developer has proposed a tree covenant to protect 127 of the Garry oaks on the property, while cutting down the remaining 39 trees, measures that she believes will be insufficient to protect the ecosystem at large.

“Without the full ecosystem to support them, the Garry oaks will also disappear over time as they reach the end of their lifespan without new trees growing to replace them,” she said earlier this summer.

Cepeda said at the time that the application represents the predictable outcome of Saanich’s decision to eliminate the EDPA in predicting that more will come forward.

Notably, staff — not council — will decide the fate of the subdivision application, a source of frustration for Cepeda.

Saanich staff said earlier this summer that they “would anticipate that a preliminary decision would be reached later this year.”

Cepeda acknowledged that the recently launched petition would benefit her neighbourhood’s case. But it is not just about her neighbourhood, because what has happened in her neighbourhood is happening across Saanich, she said.

Residents elsewhere have expressed similar concerns about the loss of green space in their respective neighbourhoods and the petition voices their concerns as well before it is too late, she said.

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