With the first draft of Sooke’s official community plan looming, and many questions remaining unanswered, Mayor Maja Tait says she’s willing to delay passage of the document until after this fall’s municipal election.
Often referred to as an OCP, an official community plan sets guidelines, policies and expectations for community development.
Sooke’s new plan would replace one adopted in 2008. The provincial Community Charter recommends a new OCP every 10 years.
After attempting to produce a new plan since 2016, the district focused on the process in 2020. However, the COVID pandemic hampered efforts to receive broad-based community input.
“You reach a point where we can only do so much given the constraints. It would be better to pause than to push ahead,” Tait said.
“There’s been engagement, but what I’m looking for now is consultation.”
Based on a consultant’s report released in November, 75 people attended civic open houses last fall, 190 viewed content on the Let’s Talk Sooke online discussion forum, 88 downloaded documents, 11 provided comments and dozens of letters were received.
According to online feedback and the theme of discussions, the focus of the OCP is on more town centre and in-fill development, with less emphasis on single-family units in residential subdivisions.
“When residents say they want more growth in the town centre, do they realize that calls for up to six-storey buildings in the town core?” Tait said. “Sooke has very few six-storey buildings now.”
Not a fan of online meetings, the mayor said public engagement should include more in-person consultations and discussions around the implications of policies.
The process gets more muddied with proposed provincial legislation on the review and approval of rezoning applications.
Municipal governments would no longer be required by legislation to conduct public hearings for rezoning applications, provided that the building proposals align with the municipality’s approved OCP.
Additionally, city councils would delegate decisions on minor development variance permits to city staff.
Coun. Al Beddows, council’s representative on the OCP committee, agreed there are challenges to creating an update of the OCP during a pandemic but added, “we’ve made every effort to engage the public.”
It’s also a concern for local developer and former councillor Herb Haldane, who’s had numerous meetings with Tait and municipal staff on the issue.
“People don’t understand their rights are going to be taken away from underneath them. And more importantly, staff will take on the role of running this town over and above the council, based on what the OCP says through the language in the document,” he said.
The OCP committee meets on Wednesday (Feb. 16) to finalize the second draft. The document would then be sent to council for first reading, with potential for final adoption this spring.
“If there is a problem with the OCP, then we react to it,” Beddows said. “It’s not a done deal.”