In North Saanich, we are faced with the usual, but inappropriate, dilemma: housing and development vs. rural values. Why is it inappropriate?
Land use planning in BC has had a spotty history I am told by those who have been there - urban sprawl being the chief problem. In our case at least, the end result has been to create the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). Recognizing that urbanization does not self manage very well, and certainly does not self limit, the Urban Containment Boundary has emerged as a key feature in the RGS.
Evidently, urbanization requires containment - the RGS policy states that a maximum of 5% of regional growth will accrue to areas like North Saanich that are outside the UCB. What does that mean for North Saanich and all the candidates?
It means that they should support the RGS, and not apologize for doing so. In fact, they really don't have a choice. It is a wisely crafted CRD bylaw agreed to by all 13 municipalities. It is wise because it recognizes that there is no natural harmony between rural/agricultural landscapes and those that are urbanized. Rural values exist mostly for what they are but also for what they are not -dense, busy, noisy, crowded and stressful. Nevertheless, urban areas are necessary for efficient housing, transport and commerce. But the RGS recognizes that the two cannot coexist - hence the 5%/95% growth prioritization. Why is this planning guidance problematic?
It isn't but can be if misrepresented. In our area, and indeed much of the developed world, housing availability is difficult. And the solutions to that are difficult - be wary of those who offer quick and simple fixes such as, “build more, they will get cheaper.” There are many reasons why that approach simply does not work - North Saanich now has examples of that failed strategy at Canora Mews and Eaglehurst, where recent assessments are in the $900,000-$1 million range. In fact, the advocates of these projects later admitted the failure, and without an apology.
Very high land values generally kibosh any hopes of affordable housing on the Peninsula. Land only assessments for McTavish Road small acreages in 2021 average about $361,000 per acre, while at Canora Mews they are $4.9 million per acre for lots that are just over 3000 ft.². It is no surprise that there is pressure to densify but for whose benefit?
Of all the recent building in Sidney, how much is affordable? Of 200+ units recently approved in a nearby neighborhood, only eight were designated as affordable. Would it be any different in North Saanich?
Nonmarket housing holds some promise. Do any candidates have plausible policies in that regard? Tough questions are in order.
So, what is North Saanich's role in the housing crisis?
At best, it is very limited, guided by the 5% growth ceiling clearly defined in the RGS. Today, existing zoning in the District provides for considerable population growth without densification or altering the UCB. In fact, over the last several years, North Saanich has absorbed 61% more than our planned allotment. So, why is North Saanich being asked to provide housing solutions that contradict an RGS that says that they should be provided elsewhere?
Again, recall that our obligation in North Saanich is to provide many non-urban amenities and values for the whole CRD that other municipalities cannot. On October 15 make sure that you choose a Council (and Mayor) that truly understands the Regional Growth Strategy and the role of North Saanich role within it.