Doug Hamm (left) and Frances Backhouse are among those concerned about a proposed development on Milner Avenue that will result in the loss of one of Saanich’s Garry oak ecosystems. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Doug Hamm (left) and Frances Backhouse are among those concerned about a proposed development on Milner Avenue that will result in the loss of one of Saanich’s Garry oak ecosystems. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Neighbours rally to protect Garry oak ecosystem on Saanich development site

Site of proposed Milner Avenue subdivision home to dense forest residents want preserved

Residents in Saanich’s North Quadra neighbourhood are rallying to protect the Garry oak ecosystem on a property set to be subdivided.

Those living near the site of a proposed subdivision at 972 and 972B Milner Ave. feel “stonewalled” after Saanich’s approving officer granted conditional approval for four fee-simple lots and five bare-land strata lots to be created on the property despite community opposition, said Douglas Hamm.

Resident and former biologist Frances Backhouse said the property is home to a rare, deep-soil Garry oak ecosystem and about 60 trees would be removed.

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The property is zoned for single-family dwellings and, with no variance requests, the proposal bypasses council, Hamm said. Conditional approval for the development was granted by Saanich staff in August with a list of requirements to be met for final approval including that at least 36 replacement trees be planted.

Backhouse pointed out that replacements won’t make up for the loss of the Garry oak underbrush and mature canopy.

Hamm noted a 2018 proposal that included 12 lots and a 2019 proposal with 11 lots weren’t approved. Since then, the property owner has resubmitted a proposal with nine lots accessed via Leveret Place.

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Since 2018, the neighbours have made inquiries and submitted two petitions to Saanich, but Hamm said with few replies it’s felt like shouting into a void. With a Freedom of Information request, neighbours accessed internal documents that show Saanich staff have highlighted issues with the development.

An environmental services review from August said the development would “result in the substantial loss of Garry oak canopy cover and accompanying understory habitat” and recommended that four Natural State Covenants be created under the OCP and the North Quadra Local Area Plan including an outcrop of Trembling Aspen – an endangered species.

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Kelsie McLeod, a communications manager for Saanich, explained that the approval process included “extensive consultation” with staff from relevant departments and consideration of regulations, bylaws and neighbourhood input. Conditional approval is not conclusive and final approval is only granted once all requirements have been met, she said.

Hamm emphasized that residents aren’t opposed to development on the property. He acknowledged that the ecosystem will “inevitably be damaged” but said a reconfiguration could accommodate the same nine lots without impacting densely forested areas.

Aside from the environmental concerns, neighbours worry what increased traffic will do to Leveret Place. Backhouse noted that the street – which has no sidewalk – is a cycling corridor and walking route to Lakehill Elementary and St. Margaret’s School.

READ ALSO: North Quadra neighbours rally to stop Woodhall Drive subdivision, save ‘precious piece of heritage’

After the conditional approval was granted, the two-acre property was put on the market, Hamm explained. The online listings advertise 972 Milner Ave. at $2.2 million and 972B Milner Ave. at $1.8 million.

The conditional approval is transferable and valid for one year so a new owner could move forward with meeting requirements for the current plan or go another route, McLeod explained.


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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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