`Nearly five years after the District of Sooke first set out to update its 2010 Official Community Plan (OCP), the task is finally underway.
Under the auspices of the Official Community Plan Advisory Committee, “Picture Sooke” is the largest and most important process currently being undertaken in the district. The OCP will guide Sooke through the next 10 years of growth when it’s adopted by Sooke council in 2022.
“This is the time to listen to people on what they want their town to look like,” Coun. Al Beddows, chair of the Official Community Plan Advisory Committee, said.
“Growth is certainly what’s driving it. The theme here is balance and trying to satisfy everybody’s wishes.”
The OCP provides a foundation for direction and decision-making in key areas: community planning and land-use management, growth management, housing, greenhouse gas emissions targets, and social and environmental issues among them.
“The OCP is a foundational document for the community,” Mayor Maja Tait said.
The OCP update will take almost a year by the time Sooke council adopts it either late this year or in 2022. With council’s adoption, it takes effect immediately.
The saga of this rewrite began in 2016 with several starts and stops. It wasn’t until recently when council decided to get a consultant to look at the OCP and then follow the report with a committee formed from “local experts” that new life was breathed into the project.
“Some people brush (the OCP) off as a fluff document, but it’s what we base all of our land-use decisions,” Beddows said.
“My personal opinion is that it was just thrown together 10 years ago, and we haven’t asked those deeper questions about land use.”
Former councillor Kevin Pearson has many issues with the current version of the OCP, often referred to as not written in laymens’ terms and ambiguous.
“There were lots of collisions between our bylaws and the OCP,” he said.
Still, the new OCP stretches well beyond land use and planning.
Beddows hopes the new OCP will serve as a foundation for relationship building with the T’Sou-ke Nation.
“We’ve been trying to build a relationship built on trust and good faith. They’re a big player in all of it,” he said.
The new OCP is another step towards allowing the First Nation to realize further development along the Gateway corridor – and perhaps the opportunity for a new cost-sharing sewer system for the local reserve.
When the new OCP is adopted, some long-contemplated projects in Sooke may finally see the light of day.
The first that comes to light is the area around Lot A along Wadams Way, sewer and water systems, parkland, and more emphasis on climate change and the environment. The plan will also include the newly-minted Transportation and Trails and Parks Master Plan, along with others.
“Without a good OCP, it just difficult to do things,” Pearson said.
While the province doesn’t require local governments to adopt an OCP, they recommend that they be updated every five years.
It’s also worth noting that an OCP does not commit a local government to proceed with any projects mentioned in the plan.
In the next phase of the official community planning process, the district will explore three different scenarios developed based on the themes that emerged during fall consultations.
Planners want to know what residents and people who do business in Sooke like and dislike about each scenario. Opportunities to view the scenarios and provide feedback on them will be available online from Feb. 26 to March 25. There will also be pop-up sounding boards throughout the community.