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LETTER: Community plan should avoid urban sprawl

I am the former mayor (2008-2018) of North Saanich and a charter member of Save North Saanich. Our website is carefully monitored and scrupulously factual in the information we provide to the residents of North Saanich.

The current review of the official community plan began with a survey of residents’ priorities. The three top priorities were environment and natural spaces, agriculture and food security, and climate change.

Contrary to this direction, the district’s urban-oriented consultants have concentrated almost exclusively on increasing urban growth. Not only does this continued emphasis ignore significant community opposition, but it is inconsistent with the role of North Saanich in the regional growth strategy (RGS).

In March 2018 – just three years ago, and after a decade of extensive regional public consultation and review – the Capital Regional District (CRD) board adopted the new regional growth strategy.

Strengthening protection of local food production and enhancement of food security was assigned high priority. In fact, the RGS includes a food and agriculture strategy. It seeks to put 5,000 additional hectares into crop production by 2038.

North Saanich has been a regional leader in local food growing, adopting in 2010 an agricultural area plan, the first and only municipality in the CRD to do so, and in 2016 going on to adopt a whole community agriculture strategy. The district also supports the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture on district land. North Saanich farms are the most productive on the Island.

And so it just makes sense that two other high-priority RGS objectives are keeping urban settlement compact and protecting the integrity of rural communities. North Saanich is defined as a rural/rural residential community, and is completely outside the RGS urban containment boundary.

The regional growth strategy states: “Urban containment directs growth into complete communities to reduce development pressures in the Saanich Peninsula…” And it goes on to specifically direct development of complete communities “to be within the urban containment policy area.”

The fact is that North Saanich was never meant to be a “complete community.” Nevertheless, previous councils have also made significant, consistent efforts toward housing, recognizing the need to balance these with protection of the rural character. Earlier councils have approved literally thousands of secondary suites and guest cottages.

Our future OCP must focus on the need to avoid urban sprawl/agricultural land use conflicts, enhance food security and expand food system economic opportunities. Council needs to address unpredictable climate, increased pest resistance, and declining, increasingly expensive water and energy supplies. The current pandemic has added urgent emphasis to these needs.

Alice Finall

North Saanich