North Saanich Mayor Peter Jones said he personally disagrees with the decision by a North Saanich property owner to cut down most of the trees on his Rosborough Road property, while acknowledging that council did not have the ability to stop it.
“We got engaged with this after the period of time, where we may have had the opportunity to say, ‘let’s reconsider this,’” he said.
He made these comments after crews had cut down an unknown but said to be substantial number of trees on a 3.17-acre property in the 11000-block of Rosborough Road, a quiet side-road near Deep Cove Elementary School, late last month.
The property lies entirely in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) with a zoning of rural-agricultural and Kim Grout, chief executive officer of the Agricultural Land Commission, told Black Press in early fall that nothing in the legislation governing the Agricultural Land Reserve prevents the removal of trees as part of agricultural use.
The property owner had signed an affidavit in early July — so well before the election of the current council — to verify that his purpose for cutting or removing trees is of an agricultural nature, according to North Saanich staff.
As such, he had legal permission to remove trees from the property without any permits from North Saanich. Should he wish to build on the property, he will need to obtain the necessary permits to comply with building and zoning bylaws, staff added. It is not clear what type of agriculture the owner is pursuing, as he did not return calls seeking comment. According to Jones, the owner plans to build a riding ring (along with a residence). According to an account from the First Unitarian Church of Victoria, tree cutting started on on the property on Saturday, Nov. 19 and by Dec. 8 visitors to the site could see piled stacks of logs, heavy equipment and a drive way leading into the centre of the property with a screen of trees around its edges.
Jones said he disagrees with what he called “whole-scale cutting” of trees on properties in areas where the tree canopy should remain, adding that North Saanich’s OCP would try to direct development into areas where it should occur and not on lots like the one on Rosborough Road.
“We should only allow this to occur in area where it may well be appropriate but in a lot of North Saanich, we feel it is not appropriate and we may have to make changes and that takes time,” he said. Jones said earlier that the municipality would look into its bylaws and added later that North Saanich would also address the issue with provincial officials through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) with an eye toward securing more authority for municipalities to prohibit clear-cutting of this sort.
The issue has also spilt into North Saanich’s council chambers on two occasions.
The first happened on Nov. 21 when a group of activists including First Nations self-identifying themselves as WSANEC presented council members with blankets as well cedar boughs, which they said had come from the property, during the official public participation period. Jones at the time extended the length of the public participation period during which one speaker from the group — Paul Chiyokten Wagner — denied the legality of allowing the tree cutting under the guise of agriculture.
“What happened on that land is the hardest thing for an Indigenous person to endure,” he said. “I want to let you know that it truly is genocide, because without them, how do remain Indigenous?” he asked at one stage.
The second occasion happened on Dec. 5, when a speaker interrupted a presentation from Staff-Sgt. Wayne Conley before council. While partially garbled on the video recording of the meeting, the speaker’s comments criticized the RCMP for its handling of previous protests around the property. Jones then declared a recess. Most but not all members of council and staff then left the chambers.
“The recess was to allow other members of council plus staff to escalate the situation directly,” he said.
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