NSCV on the OCP Review

Many North Saanich residents are aware that Council reinstated the OCP Review Engagement process in late March. It is proceeding in very much the same direction and with the same attitudes and topics that raised so much opposition and frustration among residents as the first round of engagement through early 2021. 

One of the fundamental failings of the process is the complete lack of background and context provided by the Project Team to help resident understanding. Excessive concentration on housing has ignored basic issues that should have provided the overarching themes governing this discussion. 

Council has failed to conduct preliminary discussions, mainly to address and consider basic issues regarding NS’s role in the Capital Region as a rural and agricultural municipality. North Saanich community concerns over expanding urban densities have not been addressed during this review and instead have been exacerbated. 

Our 5 OCPs since 1977 have continually endorsed the same values as expressed in our current OCP. A 2016 survey of our residents showed overwhelming community support for all 9 of the vision and goals of our current OCP. These themes arise from and support our role in the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), adopted in March 2018 by all 13 CRD municipalities. The RGS informs land use policies throughout the Capital Region - see link (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/regional-growth-strategy). 

Through 12 years of regional public consultation and deliberation at the CRD Board in reviewing the RGS, the highest overall concern of residents was local food production and food security. Following these years of work on the RGS by planners at the CRD and in 13 municipalities, after extensive review, public consultation and finally, a three-day mediation, all CRD municipalities agreed that rural communities must be protected; North Saanich is classified as a rural rural/residential community. 

There has been no sudden change that would make our role in the region no longer valid, particularly since that role was so recently reinforced in the 2018 RGS. Indeed, the effects of the pandemic, climate change challenges and the world economy add strong impetus to confirmation and enhancement of that role. Present and future residents of the CRD, both human and wildlife, more than ever need natural areas, healthy oceans and robust local food systems. 

Council has failed to address these fundamental and important concerns. The themes and proposals that the Project Team has pursued have never had a sound rationale, yet Council has adopted these for the review process. In addition, the Project Team has not allowed for adequate consideration of the Urban Containment Boundary of the Regional Growth Strategy with its implications for NS. 

Residents continue to be presented with land-use options for consideration without the best information available on these implications. We need to understand our ability to mitigate climate change, prevent wildfires, provide for our local food security.  Our population growth over the past 5 years has put hundreds more cars on North Saanich roads, affecting highway 17 and other local roads. Our NS sewer capacity is limited, and our water supply experienced stress during last summer’s heat dome. We hear every day of increasing demands for services – doctors, medical system, transit system, schools – to meet the needs of the steadily increasing provincial and local populations.

The much-emphasized need for housing is based on biased information. The Housing Needs Assessment Report (HNAR) upon which the Project Team relies as a foundational document for their recommendations, was based almost exclusively on input from he development community, including the Urban Development Institute Capital Region and the Victoria Residential Builders Association.  The HNAR does not include input from a single organization or person who lives in North Saanich. Other municipalities have engaged extensively with hundreds of their residents when preparing their HNARs.  

To date we have heard minimal information to address the RGS target for North Saanich and other agricultural municipalities to ramp up food production by over 12,000 acres in the next 16 years to build food security for the region. 

A Kwantlen Polytechnic study

 https://bcfarmsandfood.com/can-local-agriculture-drive-economic-development/of the agricultural potential of Surrey’s unfarmed ALR land showed huge as-yet untapped potential to provide Surrey’s demand for 27 farm products for 6 months. If the necessary processing and storage capacity were put in place, it would satisfy demand for those products for 12 months. North Saanich has similar potential, relatively speaking, if we plan for and implement it, but the Project Team is giving it only the most cursory attention. 

Perhaps most importantly during this time of climate crisis, the Project Team has not applied a climate lens to their proposals, in spite of the numerous recent devastating weather events: last summer’s heat dome, the November floods, last week’s record-breaking windstorm – all in the space of one year – and destructive and deadly wildfires. You probably know someone who was significantly affected – perhaps it was you. 

Council has declared acclimate Emergency, yet while undertaking to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 33%, nearly all the Project Team’s proposals require car-dependence, the definition of urban sprawl. 

While the OCP Project Team tells us the proposed density development in North Saanich is meant to protect the rural areas of NS and curb urban sprawl, the reality is that what they’re proposing is actually the definition of Urban Sprawl, imperiling farmland and local food security in the process.   More information here.

A healthy region requires communities such as ours. It is essential that municipalities like North Saanich exist, alongside urban communities but not subsumed by them. 

The proposed changes will shift the whole focus of our community away from our role as rural and agricultural. Resources will be spent on development, not growing our agricultural potential and food security, or enhancing our climate-mitigating natural resources. The work, focus, staff time and expertise of our district cannot be expended on building villages too. What we do next with the OCP will have serious implications for future generations. 

Hopefully the information below will assist residents to understand the serious deficiencies in this OCP Review process that are continuing in the Phase 3 engagement. Please read on for the context and information we believe residents need to be fully informed participants in the Phase 3 engagement process. 

Please discuss these points with your neighbours and friends, and let the Project Team and Council know that North Saanich is a unique place serving a unique function in the region, one which urbanized municipalities are unable to do; that its forests and trails, parks, farms and farm stands, beaches and streams and rural gathering places are worth fighting for, for the benefit of everyone in the region, now and for generations to come. 

If you agree with us, please ask the Project Team and Council to:

  •  Provide a Land Use Option that is aligned with the RGS that was approved by the CRD in 2018
  •  Keep the Urban Containment Boundary outside of North Saanich
  •  Apply a climate lens to all proposals
  •  Focus on and enhance local food security 

If you feel fortunate to be able to live in this wonderful place, know that it is thanks to the others who came before us and advocated for the OCPs that created this gem of a community. And if we appreciate what we have, we owe it to those previous generations and OCPs to do what those earlier residents did for us: create an OCP that ensures that future generations have the chance to choose a community like this as well.


More Background and Detailed Information 

The Regional Growth Strategy 

The CRD’s Regional Growth Strategy is a plan for land use in the region, which specifically directs density outside of North Saanich. Among its primary objectives is keeping urban settlement compact and protecting the integrity of rural communities. The overarching intention of the RGS is to reduce development pressures on the Saanich Peninsula and other rural areas “to ensure that they remain strongly rooted in the agricultural…land base . . . allowing the rural countryside and natural landscape to remain as a durable fact of life in the Capital Region”. 

One of the ways it does this is by designating a specific area in the CRD to accommodate new regional growth that is contained within a border called the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB).  

The RGS places North Saanich outside the UCB, and designates NS as a rural/residential municipality. Sidney is within the Urban Containment Boundary, where growth is intended to go. 

Growth in the CRD is meant to be 95% contained in the urban areas inside the Urban Containment Boundary, with the other 5% (only) to go in the areas outside the UCB. Those areas outside the UCB are almost exclusively North Saanich, Metchosin and Highlands (which are all completely outside the UCB), and parts of Central Saanich and Saanich.  

For an in-depth look at the RGS, see this link. 

Dir. Of Planning Brian Green admits that NS has already provided far more than our share of that 5%:  60 - 70% of it, in fact.

                                                                The 2021 Census Numbers

North Saanich grew to a population of 12,235 from 11,249 since 2016, an increase of 986 people at a growth rate of 8.8%, with a 2021 dwelling count of 5,235.

Sidney, adding 646 people, grew to a population of 12, 318, a growth rate of 5.5%, with a 2021 dwelling count of 6,321.

The City of Victoria, View Royal, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, and Saanich make up the urban core, which grew by 10,603 people to a population of 256,700 from 246, 097, an increase of 4.3%.

Esquimalt and Oak Bay had negative growth rates. 

The urban areas are not accommodating growth as they should be; North Saanich has already provided about 10% of the growth provided by the whole urban core combined.  For rural rural-residential NS to add urban densities makes no sense and is not our role, especially in view of the inability of most CRD municipalities to add to food production and to mitigate the climate crisis we are now facing. 

The urban densities proposed for the McTavish area were an anomaly pushed through and passed by one vote at the CRD in 2014, while the Regional Growth Strategy was still under review. If the proposed densities are rejected by the citizens of North Saanich, and the Urban Containment Boundary is not brought into NS, those designations will be restored to the single-family designations already in the current OCP. 

The NS urbanization already in place has not provided affordability nor any other obvious benefit to the municipality as a whole. Municipal property taxes have been steadily on the rise as larger administrative costs, ongoing infrastructure provision and maintenance costs affect the municipal budget. 

Our current OCP allows for enough housing to cover North Saanich’s projected need well past 2038. 

Our secondary suites are a made-in-North Saanich solution that provide for the affordable rental housing needed to house our workers. Secondary suites have many other benefits too:

·         For renters:

o   they provide homes in diverse established neighbourhoods of people of all incomes and ages and stages of life;

o   people can age in place, or provide housing for caregivers;

o   they have access to yards.

·         For owners:

o   they provide a mortgage helper, which allows greater affordability for young families to enter the market;

o   they allow a space to be created to downsize into, while staying on the property.

·         For the community:

o   they allow for a smaller environmental footprint, since they use the space in existing dwellings more efficiently;

o   the larger lots provide space for off-street parking;

o   sewer services are more likely to be the responsibility of the homeowner, not the taxpayer;

o   they are more likely to be rented by local workers;

o   they are not attractive to speculators and investors. 

Experts agree that density does not provide affordability. A look at the CRD and Vancouver situations shows that we have not been able to build ourselves into affordability. In fact, the opposite is true: housing prices just continue to rise, and the relative cost of land goes up significantly as lots get smaller. Experts also agree that the only way to provide affordable housing is through taking advantage of government programs and non-profit partners. We do not need to designate multi-family areas in order to take advantage of this type of opportunity. 

Non-market (affordable) housing can be accommodated within our existing OCP. There are already 109 subsidized affordable housing units in North Saanich.  This includes 24 BC Housing low-income family rentals at Heron Cove, 40 seniors units at Winward Kiwanis, 5 rental assistance families in private market housing, 7 rental assistance seniors in private market housing and 23 units for special needs supported by BC Housing. The Habitat for Humanity units bring the total to 109. This is a respectable level for a municipality of this size.

Food Security and Agriculture are top priorities for NS and CRD residents. 

Global and regional events of the last couple of years, such as the November rainstorm that devastated many Saanich Peninsula and BC farms, last summer’s heat dome and drought, the pandemic, global shipping insecurity and petroleum supply insecurity threaten our food security.In order to build our local food security and resilience in the face of these types of threats, the updated 2018 RGS’s Food and Agriculture Strategy  (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/food-agriculture) targets increasing land in food production by 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) by 2038. The Project Team has yet to address even a tiny fraction of this target. 

Peninsula farmers, in the 2020 Peninsula and Area Agriculture Commission Annual Report(https://northsaanich.civicweb.net/document/66992/),are “literally begging” our local municipal governments to address the devastating effects of stormwater runoff from urban development which floods their farms, sometimes “as early as late summer”, causing crops to be “abandoned in the field”, “completely submerged” and “destroy[ed]”. Runoff “also often leaves behind traces of various pollutants including oils, antifreeze, tire rubber and other urban waste. . . If our local elected representatives truly want agriculture to continue [on] the Peninsula, they should do something and do it now. We are literally on our knees begging for substantive action.” 

Most if not all of the proposed developments could have runoff implications for downhill farmland, just one of the reasons why agricultural municipalities and denser urban municipalities are intentionally separated. 

Often developments do not adequately plan for the needs of nearby farmland, because, as it turns out, most planners do not have the education or training to tackle food systems planning. A Kwantlen Polytechnic University survey
https://www.kpu.ca/sites/default/files/ISFS/Summary_Planning_For_Food_Systems_In_Canada.pdf) of 435 professional planners and practitioners reveals that 67% did not take food related courses during their formal education.  And “while nearly one quarter of respondents indicated taking food related courses, few of the opportunities described provided information and skill development in the field of food systems planning.” A Modus team lead admitted in a meeting recently that their team has no food systems planning education, and that their agricultural consultant has not weighed in on the evolving OCP planning since May 2021.

As this OCP Review process moves forward, North Saanich Community Voices will continue to share relevant information, perspectives and opinions which are more closely aligned with the unique rural identity so many North Saanich residents have come to appreciate about North Saanich.  Please help us create an OCP that truly reflects this community. Sign up for occasional email updates, stay tuned in, and let Council and the Project Team know you support the rural residential and agricultural vision we provide for the whole region. 

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