Sunday 2 November 2014

The Fiscal Case for a Rural Municipality (2014)

North Saanich is at a crossroads.  Development pressure presents NS residents with a stark choice:  re-commit to our rural-residential and agricultural identity, or continue down the road to urbanization.

Proponents of high-density development claim that more people to “broaden the tax-base” will keep taxes low for all residents.  This is not true.  Development has proven repeatedly to increase taxes. Rural municipalities typically have lower tax rates than their urbanized neighbours.

The reason for this is simple:  urban densities require urban amenities and infrastructure.  When people live in urban areas on small lots, all the activities and recreation that don’t take place on their own property depend on publicly funded infrastructure.  They require roads to go where they need to go, transit to get there, parks in which to walk and play, soccer and baseball fields for their kids, rec centres in which to swim and skate and work out – all paid for by taxes.  Urbanization also needs infrastructure like sewers, sidewalks, gutters and streetlights – that’s why it makes sense to keep urban densities in urban areas like Sidney, where the infrastructure already exists.

A look at Metchosin and Langfordneighbouring municipalities with strikingly different visions, dramatically illustrates the point.  Metchosin has elected to remain rural, and enjoys low taxes and small municipal staff costs.  Langford has chosen to pursue development, has much higher taxes, and the attendant infrastructure costs.  In fact, with developable land in Langford disappearing, so are the Development Cost Charges that municipalities count on to fund the building of new infrastructure. There are now reports that Langford is looking at tax increases to cover the cost of their aging infrastructure.

Increasing industry in NS will also bring further pressure on “available” land for more housing. Even if developers bear the initial cost of infrastructure, maintenance and replacement are permanent municipal costs, which is why residents in municipalities like Langford are facing increasing tax bills. 

Much of the industrial development in NS is on ALR land at the airport.  With approximately 1/3 of the NS land base in the ALR, residents who value our agricultural resources and food security should be concerned about the recent actions by the BC government that undermine the integrity of the ALR, and the targeting of agricultural land by land speculators.

Does industrial use of NS land even make sense?  The Sidney North Saanich Industrial Group (SNSIG) has indicated that their prospective employees cannot afford to live in NS on what the employers are willing or able to pay, which is why SNSIG has asked for a change to our Official Community Plan – ostensibly to pave the way for more options for their employees.  However, the recent projects that have been executed or approved do not provide any price options that are not already available in NS and Sidney, and reports of the “take-up” by local employees are lacklustre at best, with 65% of employees unable to afford the options that have been offered through the new urban densities in NS.  Furthermore, Robin Richardson, Scott Plastics’ Vice President of Operations, admitted in Douglas magazine recently that Scott is already experiencing “serious issues regarding manufacturing space”, and hinted that manufacturing may move “offsite”.  Clearly, putting our eggs in Industry’s basket is risky.

Contrast this with our agricultural potential, especially in this time of threatened food security, and serious and continuing drought in California.  Annual gross farm receipts in NS are twice the Vancouver Island average, indicating strong agricultural potential for NS, especially given our mild climate and broad range of agricultural products.  Gross revenues for NS farms have grown by 212% over the last 20 years Coupled with the fact that the agri-food sector is the second largest growth sector in the CRD labour market, a rural-agricultural vision seems to make more sense than ever. 

The whole point of sound regional planning is to emphasize diversity and match land uses to their best potential use and most appropriate locations.  The best use of agricultural land, particularly in NS, is agriculture.

Recent actions by our Council majority allowing development on our rural-agricultural land jeopardize the future of agriculture in NS.  As long as land speculators believe that they will be able to subdivide agricultural land, they will buy it, sit on it until it looks unused and perhaps overgrown with brush and blackberries, and then claim that it's not productive agricultural land, so "it’s perfect for development.” We’ve already seen this happen with the Canora Mews development and the rezoning of the Reay Creek Meadows development.  This further drives up the price of farmland, making it unattainable to young farmers.

The cornerstone of the NS Official Community Plan is “to retain the present rural, agricultural and marine character of the community”.   NS residents face a choice between two opposite visions in this election:  urban densities that will lead to loss of farmland and increased taxes; or preservation of a rural-agricultural identity, which, coupled with low taxes, is the jewel that is North Saanich today.

Friday 26 September 2014

New B.C. study shows strong public support for local farmland (2014)

95% of respondents say the Agricultural Land Reserve should be preserved for green space and growing food

SEPTEMBER 17, 2014, Vancouver, B.C. – A public opinion study released today by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Vancouver Foundation found that four in five (82%) respondents believe farmland is a vital public asset, like forests and water.

Three-quarters (76%) of respondents either agree or strongly agree that the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is important, not only for protecting farms, but also for protecting valleys and green space needed for wildlife habitat and recreational enjoyment.

Meanwhile, 71% of respondents believe that laws protecting the ALR should be strengthened or maintained.

The online poll of 1,704 British Columbia residents was conducted in July 2014 to assess public attitudes toward agriculture and food in the province.

The two foundations commissioned the study to inform discussion and decisions on the future of the ALR, a provincial land-use zone that protects farmland and land with potential to be farmed. The ALR currently makes up 5% of B.C's land base.

Among the survey’s other findings:

 When asked what priority uses for land in British Columbia were, respondents identified "natural freshwater systems" (83%), closely followed by "farming and growing food" (81%).

 80% of respondents are concerned about dependence on other countries for our food security.

 73% of respondents say the ALR is a cornerstone of food security and the B.C. economy.

"Local, sustainable food systems are a priority issue for the Foundation because of the link between food security and community well-being," said Jack Wong, CEO of the Real Estate Foundation of BC. "With challenges such as development pressure on agricultural land and changing weather patterns, it is of vital importance to have forward-thinking policies that protect land for growing food, now and for future generations."

“This study demonstrates that British Columbians believe strongly in safeguarding our farms and green spaces to ensure long-term health, well-being and resilience in our communities,”
said Kevin McCort, CEO of Vancouver Foundation. “The Agricultural Land Reserve is a vital public asset contributing to our ability to reliably produce fresh food, preserve local farmland and freshwater supplies, and to support local B.C. farmers and ranchers.”

Both foundations have a province-wide mandate and support projects that promote strong, resilient communities and natural environments.

The poll was conducted by Vancouver-based McAllister Opinion Research. The survey is accurate to within +/- 2.36%, 19 times out of 20.

Link to full survey results.

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About the Real Estate Foundation of BC:

The Real Estate Foundation of BC is a philanthropic organization that helps advance sustainable land use in British Columbia. It provides grants to non-profit organizations working to improve B.C. communities and natural environments through responsible and informed land use, conservation and real estate practices. Its funding programs support research, education, and law and policy reform. Since 1988, the Foundation has approved more than $67 million in grants. Learn more at

About Vancouver Foundation:

With over 1,600 funds and assets totaling $930 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. Each year, Vancouver Foundation and its donors make more than 5,300 grants, totaling approximately $50 million to registered charities across Canada. Since it was founded in 1943, Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with its donors, has distributed more than $1 billion to thousands of community projects and programs. Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, disability supports for employment, youth issues and animal welfare. To find out more about Vancouver Foundation, please visit

Celina Owen
Real Estate Foundation of BC
Direct - 604.343.2623 | toll free 1.866.912.6800 ext. 103

Monday 14 July 2014

North Saanich Unbalanced? (2014)

A Balanced Community - But  Whose Scale? (2014)

          Recently, the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce has expressed support for the North Saanich RCS/OCP Amendments about to undergo a Public Hearing and debate by Council. Some of the Chamber's arguments are both perplexing and concerning.

          Actually, their first point is generally not contentious - that those who work in a community should have the opportunity to live in that community. Of course, this is quite reasonable. However, others have gone a step further, insisting that workers have the right to live in the communities. I can only agree with the first statement.

          It is the Chamber's second reason that causes me concern. They state that "… The ongoing health of our community requires a "Balanced Community" where all age groups are adequately represented." This implies that there is some standard by which to assess the age group balance within the community and, further, there is some "adequate representation" of a certain age classes.

          So, who is to determine what is the proper "balance"? Would Sidney, with its preponderance of older people, be considered out of balance? How about Langford? It is highly represented by younger people. That doesn't sound balanced. The demographic profile of North Saanich falls somewhere between that of Sidney and Langford. Perhaps it is actually in balance?

          So, how does the Chamber of Commerce get to decide which communities are in or out of balance? I think that they would be among the least qualified, and least objective of all agencies, to comment upon "demographic correctness" and how some ideal standard of that should be achieved. How does this differ from examples of ageism in other sectors of society? It doesn't.

          What a remarkable coincidence that North Saanich is suddenly proclaimed to be "demographically unbalanced" with respect to younger people just as land speculators are seeking approval for higher density, but not necessarily cheaper, housing.

          I heartily resent being told that my community, because it is apparently burdened with a surplus of older citizens, is somehow deficient and needs "an injection of life" to be considered up to some external and mysterious standard. This philosophy has more than a tinge of Social Engineering which all of us should find abhorrent and reject wholeheartedly.

          No doubt there are more than a few members of our communities that have seen "demographic restructuring" first-hand but in a much less benign setting.

          I am quite disappointed that the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce would select such odious reasoning to prop up their faltering case for institutionalized spot rezoning in North Saanich.