Can you have too much consultation?
North Saanich, a community of 12,235 according to the 2021 census, is about to answer that question by asking nine — count them, nine — resident groups plus a community-wide Official Community Plan (OCP) advisory group to participate in the upcoming public engagement process.
Bazan Bay Residents Association, Dean Park Estates Community Association, Eaglehurst Residents Association, Lands End Residents Association, McTavish Neighbourhood Community Group, North Saanich Residents Association, Property Responsibility on the Waterfront, Save North Saanich and Terraces Community Association will join the OCP Advisory Working Group (AWG) in discussing what staff the draft vision, goals and key themes, policy directions and draft land-use options.
To be clear, they will not all meet at the same time, but some will instead find themselves part of the same session.
The Lands End and Property Responsibility groups will participate together, while the Bazan Bay, Eaglehurst, McTavish and Terraces groups will find themselves together in one workshop, which promises a longer and more extensive format, according to staff.
But if the municipality appears eager to consult as widely as possible in response to previous criticisms about the level of public consultation for this process, the proposed process also suggests a hierarchy among residents associations as the Dean Park Estates, North Saanich Residents, Save North Saanich and the AWG will each have their own dialogue session.
North Saanich announced the consultations after council last week modified elements of the proposed engagement plan before endorsing it. Support was not unanimous with Couns. Celia Stock and Jack McClintock opposed to the high-level work plan and proposed engagement and communications plan.
These as yet unscheduled sessions will complement other engagement activities, including three open houses and an online survey. According to staff, engagement will take place in May and June, formally launching the third phase of the OCP review process.
Erik Lambertson, North Saanich’s communications and engagement manager, said input from the various community and neighbourhood groups will benefit the engagement process. He added that the proposed three open houses and online survey will be open to all community members. “As one of the principles for public engagement in the OCP review is equity and accessibility, the project team is offering multiple ways to engage with residents, listen to them, and collect their feedback,” he said.
Councillors also agreed to put another $110,000 from the 2022 budget toward the process with McClintock and Stock opposed. Staff later told Black Press Media that the total project budget now stands at $460,000.
The OCP review process has been stuck between the second and third phase and at times seemed close to veering off the rails entirely. Defenders have pointed to public health measures as hampering its speed and substance, while critics accused the project team of focusing too much on promoting housing, thereby threatening North Saanich’s rural character. That argument has been countered with reminders that North Saanich is among the most unaffordable communities in the region and the absence of affordable housing threatens its future economic well-being.
At one stage councillors asked for a partial draft of the OCP that would have excluded housing and affordability from the six themes part of the review’s scope, but also severely limit future public input. Housing and affordability were later reinserted, including the more controversial aspects, into the scope of the review. That decision paved the way for the upcoming public engagement process and participation of multiple resident groups.
The public should not expect a quick process. On March 21, councillors asked the project consultant to update them on May 2 about the logistics, costs and success metrics of the revised engagement plan before it actually begins.
Lambertson said plans call for council to receive a summary report from that engagement in August. Council will then have the opportunity to request changes to the report, pause the review or proceed with drafting. “If (council) directs the Project Team to draft the OCP, this could be presented to council in early 2023,” he said.
Adoption would follow later, requiring additional process, he added.
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