North Saanich council will fund its share of a new roundabout near the future Amazon facility under construction from reserves, but not all members of council were satisfied with the substance and process of the decision.
Couns. Jack McClintock and Celia Stock voted against funding North Saanich’s share of $1 million for the project costing just under $5 million from the municipality’s financial stabilization reserve fund, staff’s preferred source of funding for one-time operational or capital expenditures. Staff had recommended against borrowing the money in the face of rising interest rates. Mayor Geoff Orr joined Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, and Brett Smyth in support.
Questions about the source of the money, however, have obscured a large debate in North Saanich about the design of the proposed roundabout at the corner of Galaran Road and Beacon Avenue West in Sidney — so not North Saanich — and perhaps more controversially, the process.
Chief administrative officer Tim Tanton, who has previously worked in Sidney, said the roundabout does not just respond to the future Amazon facility. Areas inside North Saanich’s municipal borders, Sidney’s municipal borders and the Victoria Airport Authority lands have seen growth well before the arrival of Amazon, leading to more and more traffic problems that need to be addressed.
“(It) certainly benefits our businesses and residents,” he said, pointing to the multiple commercial connections that exist between the two communities. He also pointed out the Victoria Airport Authority is handling the design and tendering process under a memorandum of understanding that also includes Sidney with a separate, more granular agreement handling the actual work.
He also defended the process, noting “we think we are on solid ground.”
North Saanich council approved the memorandum spelling out North Saanich’s share during an in-camera meeting on March 7 (a process common for land, labour and legal issues) with council making that decision public on March 27.
This timing prompted a series of questions about the substance and process of the decision from the North Saanich Residents’ Association (NSRA) with both sides now engaged in a second round of correspondence.
Broadly, NSRA’s correspondence has asked how the municipality would benefit from the roundabout, how councillors reached their decision and the level of public knowledge and engagement around the decision.
McClintock alluded to these concerns during Monday’s council meeting, while also signalling that he had opposed the decision.
“I won’t get into, nor should I, nor can I talk about any in-camera discussion,” he said, only then to question claims from staff that council had done everything correctly in terms of process. “What efforts have we made to fulfil our obligation to advise and inform the public prior to making a significant decision like this?” he asked. “I think without that, we have gone about it backwards. As I have had time to think about the majority of council’s decision, I still believe there are too many unanswered questions.”
Those include questions about design and North Saanich’s obligations in the face of cost overruns.
McClintock later soften his substantive criticism about the project by saying it would benefit North Saanich residents.
While the majority of council disagreed with these assessments, council asked staff to explain to the public why the municipality is participating in the project
Orr praised Tanton’s defence of the project and the process but also acknowledged the public’s concerns. “In fairness, the public has not been privy to this dialogue,” he said during Monday’s meeting.
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