Sunday 14 August 2022

Another Difficult Choice for Council

The OCP Phase 3 Engagement Summary 

Another Difficult Choice for Council 

Mayor & Council, 

   The Project Team is to be commended for a very comprehensive round up of the Phase 3 Engagement findings.  At 510 pages, over five times larger than the OCP itself, it is a daunting read.  Perhaps a longer time should have been provided for all to go through it thoroughly.  A sunny summer weekend does little to focus the mind. 

   Nevertheless, I have been able to go through the Executive Summary, RGS Alignment, Key Takeaways, Shared Values, Recommendations, and Council Correspondence but very little of the extensive underlying detail, valuable as it may be.  Nevertheless, one can still bring the important problems into focus. 

   For me, these difficulties distil down to: 

1.      A spontaneous rewrite of the Municipal Vision Statement without a mandate to do so.  Subsequent surveys indicated that the existing Vision Statement is mostly satisfactory but the Project Team did not confirm this prior to issuing a new, significantly altered version

2.      An almost obsessive focus upon urbanization.  This, in spite of:

a.       the formative Staff Report of March 2020 providing a broad and balanced range of topics to be addressed.  This helpful work plan was mysteriously replaced by some "Emerging Themes", a notion spawned by the Project Team, not the residents

b.      Phase 1 public surveys giving this urbanization imperative a very low rating (8%)

c.       North Saanich being entirely outside the Urban Containment Policy Area

3.      A consequent lack of attention to the agricultural and rural values identified by the RGS as an imperative for areas outside UCPA

4.      an unfortunate "hands off" policy by Council that saw the OCP Review trundle along with only "citizen oversight" for seven months prior to the July 12, 2021 Council meeting.  By then a myriad of problems with the process had become entrenched and attempts to remedy them were not particularly successful.

5.      an overly strenuous effort to expand the UCPA to include Areas 1 and 2, possibly even expanding Area 1

a.       in a rural municipality, this attempt to influence the residents and Council to undermine the RGS is unseemly.

b.      The Urban Containment Boundary (UCPA) is being inaccurately portrayed as an “existing land use area perimeter” rather than a planning boundary.  The rationale for the positioning of the UCPA planning boundary is as valid today as when it originated.  As development pressure increases, the respect for that boundary should be ever stronger.

c.       Earlier inappropriate land-use decisions (Canora Mews and Eaglehurst) should not be considered precedent-setting but as nonconforming anomalies within the still valid plan.  A planning boundary is positioned according to long-term planning principles, not as a transitory response to past regulatory failures.
In fact, those earlier failures only reinforce the importance of maintaining that boundary.

6.      Examination of the Key Takeaways and Council Correspondence reveals more than a little dissatisfaction by residents with the urbanization theme and the review process itself:

a.       It is clear there is little resident support for the proposed densities, which originated with the Project Team.  For policies that could substantially change the nature of the community, one would expect approval levels in excess of 85%.  In Phase 1, where residents were given an open-ended selection process, housing concerns garnered only 8% support, with environmental, climate, agricultural and marine values attracting the most support.  
It is difficult to support advancing the proposed density initiatives when they are opposed by a large percentage of the residents.

b.      The report gives some attention to Climate change considerations, but fails to acknowledge that none of the proposed densities will pass a Climate lens test.

c.       The Council Correspondence summary is worth reading.  The lack of support is substantial and the specific complaints point to major fundamental flaws.  It is difficult to reconcile some of the recommendations with the findings in this section.

7.      The Regional Growth Strategy.  In this project, the minimal RGS treatment is now recognized as a significant failure of process.  Although fundamental to every municipality within the CRD, it has received little attention until recently.  Its policies and principles define our community:

a.       North Saanich is a rural community, not sometimes, not partially and not changeable upon a whim.  We are entirely outside of the Urban Containment Policy Area

b.      as a rural community, our role in the CRD is to emphasize and safeguard rural and agricultural values, both for District residents and those throughout the CRD

c.       our role is not primarily to provide residential and commercial services

d.      in this regard, the RGS is very clear, a maximum of 5% of CRD growth is to accrue to areas such as ours that are outside the UCPA.  This is an agreed-upon policy, not something to be adopted or changed arbitrarily

e.       notwithstanding that and the fact that North Saanich contains 13.6% of the rural lands within the CRD, we have recently received 61% of the non-urban growth within the region.  It would appear that North Saanich is already doing more than its share to provide housing (some municipalities are absorbing less than the 5% "quota").  Why the push to do more?
More importantly, the CRD has given no indication or direction to North Saanich to accommodate more growth than our share of the 5%.

f.       The nature of North Saanich as a slow growth area (5%) with a non-urban focus is not an arbitrary stance by a few grumpy property owners - it is an official planning policy enshrined in a CRD bylaw.

g.      Rather than employing contradictory contortions of logic (“how [Areas 1 and 2] may play a role in meeting our housing needs while respecting the vision and land-use objectives for the region”), the Project Team should simply make every effort to ensure that North Saanich upholds its obligations within the CRD. 
The fundamental basis for the RGS policy is that rural and urban values are mostly mutually exclusive, hence the 5%/95% growth distinction.  “Changing X while respecting X,” is a nonsense statement.

h.      Other municipalities are designated primarily for urban and commercial activities.  Should North Saanich put its rural and agricultural values at risk because those municipalities that are charged with housing responsibilities are underperforming?

8.      Trust remains tenuous and elusive.  Why?  Because of all of the above, plus:

a.       a persistent top-down approach to the review process - the Project Team imperatives have prevailed almost (but not quite) from the beginning

b.      recognition of, but little response to, substantial negative public sentiment

c.       until recently, almost no attempt to explain or connect the Regional Growth Strategy to the OCP.  And that recent attempt has only been to obscure the real meaning of the UCPA, the 5% growth maximum and the 61% actual growth statistic.

Thank you for persevering with my laundry list of OCP problems, I’m sure that we all wish it were smaller.  Yet again, Council is at a difficult juncture in this process. 

Staff suggest six possible options for Council.  Given the scope of the problems outlined above and generally echoed by many residents in their Phase 3 feedback and correspondence to Council, it would be unreasonable for Council to advance this project further when the next Council may well choose a different direction. 

To commit more time and money to pursue Option 1 as recommended, with no assurance that the result would endure, would not be a responsible choice. 

I urge Council to adopt Option 5, to pause the process until 2023. 

Thanks very much for your patience and deliberations . . . .  

               Spring Harrison, North Saanich                      250-655-0764

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