CRD Committee Votes to Uphold Regional Growth Strategy

I attended, along with residents from North Saanich, Central Saanich and others from around the region, a meeting on January 27, 2010 of the CRD's Planning, Transportation and Protective Services Committee, of which most Mayors and selected Councilors are Directors. This is the standing committee that deals with regional planning issues, including those related to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), the strategy upon which municipalities base their Official Community Plans and Regional Context Statements, ensuring that they are all consistent.

This meeting was significant because we wanted to hear the Committee's decision on an agenda item referred by the Municipality of Central Saanich to the CRD for review -- the contentious and high profile Vantreight 89-unit hilltop housing development proposed for the Northwest corner of the Vantreight farm property.

As you may know, this development proposal has been in the news on and off for the past 2+ years, raising community concerns in both North and Central Saanich. My understanding is that it is also a hot topic at Central Saanich Council meetings and among community groups, because of concern about impacts of high density housing on farmland and implications for the newly minted Central Saanich Official Community Plan.

I also understand that while this development proposal was initially questioned by Central Saanich planning staff and the municipality's Advisory Planning Commission, the proposal continued to move ahead, survived an intervening municipal election in November 2008 and picked up new Council support from new Council members in 2009. Nevertheless, Central Saanich Council recently voted to send the proposal to the CRD for their review, perhaps because they suspected it might not meet the test for compliance with the RGS. If not, it would then require an amendment approved by the CRD Board, a process that can be lengthy, protracted and with uncertain outcomes. Just ask Highlands Mayor Jane Mendum.

The CRD staff report was clear -- the proposal as it stands, does not comply with the RGS and will require CRD Board approval for a change to the Regional Context Statement in Central Saanich's OCP. In my view, CRD staff deserve kudos for calling it like they saw it because it was obvious that the majority of speakers and Committee Directors saw it exactly the same way, based on their remarks and on the votes at the table.

Only one Committee Alternate Director voted against the CRD staff recommendation and that was Councilor John Garrison of Central Saanich. Speakers strongly in favour of the proposal were Central Saanich Councilor and realtor Ron Kubek, Ryan Vantreight and developer Merv Mawson (remember Cresswell Subdivision?). Other speakers against the development proposal included Vicky Husband of the Regional Planning Society, Nathalie and David Chambers of Madrona Farm and Farmers of the Future Society, Gordon O'Connor of the Dogwood Initiative, Ian Cameron of Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich Society, Ed Johnson of Farmlands Trust, Ethan Krindle of the U-Vic Environmental Law Centre and residents of Central and North Saanich.

Chaired by Mayor Graham Hill of View Royal, the Committee then debated the issue at length, with all but two members (Mayor Janet Evans of Sooke and Councilor Garrison) citing the need to uphold the RGS and protect the integrity of farmland. Mayor Alice Finall of North Saanich spoke articulately about a variety of reasons why she supported the CRD staff recommendation, specifically referring to the need to adhere to the RGS and to preserve precious farmland on the Saanich Peninsula.

In my opinion, the final vote was a victory not only for the RGS but also for a community grass roots' movement inspired in part by North Saanich resident Mrs. Hildegard Horie. Mrs. Horie has been "rallying the troops" for as long as the Vantreight proposal has been in the hopper. Mrs. Horie, with the support of her family and neighbours, has proved that effective political activism can start in someone's kitchen over a cup of coffee and grow to a community-wide movement with regional support.

It is clear to me that many Peninsula residents are committed to making a difference and shining a light on a development proposal that they believe will have a negative impact on their neighbourhoods, their communities and the region as a whole. Stay tuned...