Staff: the RGS and the OCP Review
This Would Have Been Helpful in 2020
Ms. Rimell is to be commended for a thorough report (Regional Growth Strategy Background Report in Relation to the OCP Review, being presented to Council on July 11, 2022), which adds much needed context to the OCP discussion. It would have been very helpful to have had this report prior to Phase 1 as the provisions of the RGS are so fundamental to our OCP. One wonders what has prompted this late day offering?
Although the RGS background material is thorough and clear, problems lurk. As we have come to expect, this report has a strong housing and growth focus despite the fact that North Saanich is, by definition, a rural community. There is little in this report about agricultural and rural values and support for them.
The impetus for this focus is the long festering case of Areas 1 and 2. These areas were, like all of North Saanich, outside the urban containment boundary. Since bylaw 1352 was adopted in 2014 they have floated as orphans without a land management designation, neither in nor out of the UCPA. This OCP is intended to decide their fate and give them a home. They can reside outside the UCPA, as they previously did, or that boundary can be redrawn to include them in that urban designation.
What guidance are we receiving from the Project Team? Well, given their long-standing demonstrated proclivity towards growth and development, it is no surprise that they determine that, for Area 1, "there is currently stronger policy alignment with the Urban Containment Policy Area then the Rural/Rural Residential Policy Area."
This position is based upon the “existing land uses, lot sizes, servicing and infrastructure and development and policy context in these areas”. Of course, none of those qualities have existed in those areas forever. They have gradually evolved through a mix of deliberate and inadvertent land-use decisions over many years. In other words, the rationale being used today to bring Area 1 into the UCPA rests upon its non-conformance with the UCPA!
Area 1 includes Canora Mews and Eaglehurst, both fine examples of urban sprawl inappropriately built on the wrong side of the UCPA boundary. (Both are on former agricultural land.) Area 1 is in RGS-limbo today because of that. It is not the UCPA boundary that is in the wrong place, but the projects themselves.
Those projects sprang from ideology rather than professional land-use planning and were strongly opposed by the residents at the time. The Councillors who championed those developments were one-term opportunists. Not being community minded, at least in terms of housing planning, they received record low vote counts at the next municipal election. Although trumpeted as providing affordable, workforce housing, most of the financial benefits flowed to the sellers, not the buyers.
So, it requires enormous logical gymnastics to use an earlier poor land-use decision to justify an expansion of that process! In essence, this would legitimize poor land-use decisions as a valid planning tool and replaces sound planning principles with "planning by precedent."
A parallel situation would be to eliminate lower speed limits near schools where they were regularly being ignored. If the game moves off the playing field, do we move the goalposts or bring the game back onto the field?
Further undermining this obvious tilt towards expanding urbanization is the fact that North Saanich is already supporting a disproportionately large share of growth in the rural segment of the CRD. The RGS mandates that no more than 5% of regional growth will occur outside the UCPA. On the basis of rural land area, North Saanich could attract 13.6% of that 5% allotment. In 2017 North Saanich absorbed 61% of that rural growth.
It is nothing but disingenuous to suggest that the UCPA needs to be officially expanded into North Saanich. That has already happened without redrawing the boundary.
If we can learn from the above analysis, the so-called “tough decision” about Area 1 is really quite easy:
§ Recognize the growth in that area as anomalous, not based on sound planning and not precedent-setting
§ embrace the principles of wise land-use planning as expressed in the RGS
§ leave the UCPA boundary where it was intended to be, do not introduce “boundary creep”
§ return our focus to the rural and agricultural values as directed by the RGS