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Housing, affordability back in as North Saanich OCP review continues

Former mayor says majority of council members appear confused on issue
North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr says council’s decision to go ahead with an OCP review that includes housing and affordability shows faith in the consultant and in future community engagements, likely unfolding in May and June. (Courtesy District of North Saanich)

North Saanich’s review of its Official Community Plan will not only include housing and affordability, but also aspects previously considered too controversial for inclusion.

Council on Monday passed a series of motions promising to produce a more complete review by giving the public a chance to comment on all the elements through channels including in-person engagement.

The Feb. 14 vote was a flip-flop from council’s previous decision asking staff to start drafting the document without consideration of housing and affordability as a way to resume , a solution soon wanting by councillors themselves, including Coun. Patricia Pearson, who proposed four motions designed to resume public consultations inclusive housing and affordability before drafting.

While these motions sought to retain housing and affordability in the OCP process by removing elements that had caused controversy in the past from public engagement, the nine main motions passed Monday mean that these elements will be part of the next round of public consultations with staff said to spell out an engagement schedule and budget implications next month among other steps.

Mayor Geoff Orr said not only is most of council not prepared to stop the process and leave it for the next council, they are confident the consultant handling the review will be able to engage the community and present a summary to council before the fall election.

“Nothing seems to satisfy the various groups, so (it comes down to) what do we think is best?”said. “Do we think that as a community we can do an OCP review and should we able to do that? The answer is ‘yes’ and this will allow the community to demonstrate whether they are able to follow the process or not.”

RELATED: Housing could return to North Saanich’s draft OCP

District staff had warned against excluding housing and affordability from the review, and the new ask by council spells out specific steps around community engagement.

“We specifically said who we wanted to interview and we also explicitly said that this engagement does not need to include other agencies or the other stakeholders, (such as) outfits like UDI (Urban Development Institute),” Orr said.

Groups specifically singled out for engagement include four local residents associations, the Save North Saanich group, and residents in the Terraces neighbourhood and McTavish Road and Ardmore Drive areas.

Engagement will likely happen in May and June, a hoped-for period of declining COVID-19 case numbers. “It still not an ideal situation, but we felt it is enough to get feedback and still move forward,” Orr said. “We are hoping that it help us.”

Coun. Jack McClintock, who previously called for ending the process, said in its ongoing involvement review consultant MODUS has not met the standard of community trust. “I don’t know how we can overcome that in the current format,” he said.

McClintock was the lone voice of opposition on three approved motions, including one of two that dealt with engagement. He and Coun. Celia Stock opposed an amended motion to remove controversial housing elements.

RELATED: Changes coming to North Saanich’s OCP review process

Former mayor Alice Finall also criticized council’s decision. While she agreed with limiting engagement to local groups, she echoed McClintock’s concerns over the consultant’s work.

“They are proposing an engagement plan that was really a repetition of the one that has already failed, quite badly,” she said.

Pushing ahead with a more fulsome review following months of community discussions around the best way forward is not a sign of strength by council, she noted. “That is the route we have been going on for the last year-and-a-half. All they have done is sink back to an overview that is not acceptable, in my view, to the majority of the community.”

She explained her view by pointing to the large volume of largely critical letters, as well as the protest that took place outside of council chambers on July 12.

“If I had up to 500 responses to council indicating that residents did not believe the (current) direction was in the interest of the community, I would have listened. But clearly the consultants and what I perceive to be a fairly confused council has moved back there.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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