Many readers are familiar with the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and the educational services it provides to children across Greater Victoria. The sanctuary is well known to nature lovers with over 60,000 visitors a year.
In recommending Abstract Developments’ townhouse application in the Swan Lake neighbourhood, the District of Saanich breaks all the rules. The application is conditional upon seven variances that would enable the development to greatly exceed the maximum density permitted by the proposed new zoning.
At the heart of the argument against the density is the environment and the negative impact that it would have on an environmentally sensitive neighbourhood, within the Garry oak ecosystem located within the nature sanctuary watershed.
Since 2018, when Saanich council unadvisedly repealed the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw, council has been taking development decisions in a regulatory vacuum for the environment with disastrous consequences for the endangered Garry oak trees. Council promised a replacement for this bylaw and has yet to deliver.
In the absence of a replacement bylaw, Saanich council has created a highly polarized situation for both residents and developers, which it needs to solve quickly if it is to build more homes. According to the official community plan and local area plans, densification of housing units needs to be focused in what are described as “centres” and “villages”, not near a nature sanctuary. Moreover, the nature sanctuary’s watershed needs to be conserved.