Plans for a subdivision in an area once subject to a bylaw designed to protect sensitive ecosystems is generating resistance and questions about process.
Saanich staff are currently reviewing an application by Love Developments to build 12 units on land once subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. The site of the proposed development is in Saanich’s North Quadra neighbourhood.
According to the official description, the applicant plans to consolidate four existing lots on Milner Avenue, then subdivide them.
Area resident Stefanie Cepeda said the proposed subdivision represents the predictable outcome of Saanich’s decision to eliminate the EDPA.
“I think this is probably the first of many development applications in ecologically sensitive areas, and without having the EDPA in place, people can expect to see this happen more,” she said.
Saanich had introduced the EDPA in 2012 to protect environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs), but critics of the bylaw say it restricted their ability to modify their properties in lowering their property values.
She acknowledged Saanich is moving ahead with plans to replace the EDPA with an alternative regime. “But that will take a few years, and by the time, that is ratified, there may not be many substantial areas of Garry oak ecosystems left on private land,” she said. “I think developers can see this [development] as a green light to go ahead if this one proceeds and this growth [of Garry oaks] is cut down.”
Saanich planning staff received the application on April 20 – three days before the final reading and adoption of a bylaw rescinding the EDPA. This said, counci first signalled its intention to rescind the EDPA on Oct. 28, 2017 and confirmed that decision Nov. 6.
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. She said the covenant would not protect the ecosystem as a whole. The development will destroy the wildflower meadow, native plants, and animal habitats as homes with lawns, decks and gardens replace the natural areas.
“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. “It is a small growth, but it is important for biological diversity,” she said, noting that it serves as transit area for some species Christmas Hill and Beckwith Park and Blenkinsop Lake. “It has been a nice feature of the neighbourhood as well.”
Cepeda also expressed concerns about the fact that the application will not appear before council. “We were all pretty shocked that it wouldn’t go before council either,” she said.
Council, she said, has a responsibility to protect the remaining untouched Garry oak ecosystems, and must ensure that development applications that involve the destruction of endangered ecosystems follow appropriate processes.
Saanich confirmed that council will not hear the application. “As the zoning of the property allows for the proposed use, and the submission does not include any variances, the applicant is not required to appear before [council,” said Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for the municipality.
Staff (Saanich’s subdivision approving officer) will instead decide the fate of the application, she said.
Staff have also confirmed that council would not have considered the application, even if the EDPA had remained in place. “If the EDPA was still in place, based on a [council] approved process, staff would have handled EDPA related matters as part of the subdivision application review,” said Tara Zajac, a spokesperson for the municipality.
So when will Saanich make a decision? “Time lines are unique to each application,” said Catalano. “We would anticipate that a preliminary decision would be reached later this year.”
She said residents having questions or concerns about the proposed subdivision should make them known in writing to the Planning Department so that they become part of the application file.
Saanich News sent several questions to a representative in contact with Kasapi Construction, the company that owns the property, but did not receive a response.