Regional Growth Strategy


I read with great interest the Times-Colonist article by reporter Kim Westad about the CRD Board's recent decision to support Saanich Councilor Vic Derman's motion to re-examine a variety of development projects in Central Saanich, suggesting that recent Council land use decisions may contravene the provisions of the Regional Growth Strategy. As you know, I have always supported the Strategy, believing that it is one of the few tools we have to contain urban sprawl from creeping into rural and agricultural lands. In my opinion, the Strategy has helped, among other things, to protect rural communities such as North Saanich from ad hoc, shortsighted land use that demonstrates little regard for long term negative impacts on such factors as costs to taxpayers of providing more services, more resources and more infrastructure to support urban-style development.

I have heard the arguments time and again from those who want more development and less land use oversight -- "...development will increase our tax base, provide "affordable" housing and improve local economies..." "'s not our business to meddle in the affairs of other municipalities or communities..." "the Strategy threatens property rights..." and so on. In response, I can only say that in my experience, wherever there has been large scale development that is either unplanned or poorly planned, individual residential property taxes have not necessarily decreased, adequate "affordable" housing has, more often than not, failed to materialize and improvement to local economies has been difficult to quantify. If all the arguments to support unchecked large scale development lined up, then I must ask why residential property taxes on average are higher in communities where development has been a primary driver?

Regional sustainability should concern all of us, whether we happen to live in Metchosin, North Saanich or Victoria. I believe that without a framework such as the Strategy, protection of our natural resources and green/blue spaces, transportation, climate change, local agriculture, food security and other quality of life issues and needs become much more difficult to manage and address. Whether you agree or disagree with Councilor Derman's motion and the decision of the CRD Board, it is evident to me that ad hoc land use planning on a regional basis poses challenges for all of us living here; nor do land use decisions and their implications necessarily respect municipal boundaries -- our communities simply do not exist in isolation of one another. Just ask North Saanich residents living on the municipal border next door to the proposed Vantreight development.

Whatever the outcome for Central Saanich, let's hope that the Regional Growth Strategy and its values can prevail -- after all, our future depends on it.

Sandown Property - Public Engagement Meeting

If the North Saanich community chooses to embrace the idea of the current Sandown application and proposal, we stand to make a significant contribution to the Region with the acquisition of the Sandown property. Our first public Town Hall meeting saw about 100 people attend to hear about the latest application and proposal for the property. Moderated by Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and Mayor Alice Finall, the meeting included Council members who listened with the public to a presentation that laid out the general proposal. That proposal would see about 83 acres preserved for agricultural use and gifted to the North Saanich community by the current owners, a Vancouver-based family. This is the first proposal of its kind in North Saanich history and if it succeeds, could be a model to boost regional food security and enhance local farming.

Of course there were the usual nay-sayers at the meeting but, in general, what I heard was an audience majority who seemed to support the concept (some even congratulated us on our innovation), provided a clear and detailed business plan is developed that addresses issues of cost to taxpayers of environmentally remediating the property, servicing the commercial aspects of the proposal (12 acres on McDonald Park Rd.), dealing with drainage and water and assessing long term benefits of additional tax revenue to the Municipality. My notes from audience questions include the following:

• Should the current owner be given commercial zoning?
• What will be the cost of fire and other services to the property?
• How will you define "farming use?"
• What are the staff costs to the District of working on this proposal?
• Should the municipality be engaged in "land development?"
• What are the costs of cleaning up the property and demolishing existing buildings?
• What happens if the cost of maintaining the property exceeds commercial tax revenue?
• Who would own the land? (12 acres would be owned by current owner and District of North Saanich would own 83 acres of ALR)
• What is the business plan for this proposal?
• What about affordable housing on the site? (Agricultural Land Commission regulations prohibit housing developments on ALR)
• Will there be a tax increase for North Saanich residents?
• Will there be further public consultation? (Absolutely)
• What are the revenue, terms and length of two existing leases on Sandown property? (Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and a cell tower)
• Should this go to referendum in the next Municipal general election?

In the end, I believe North Saanich and the current owner of the property could be on the brink of seizing a precedent-setting opportunity to establish a public legacy that could make a positive and ever-lasting difference to agricultural land use locally, across the Saanich Peninsula and in the Region. Once the Municipality has completed its due diligence, I just hope that the majority of North Saanich residents agrees.

My thanks to everyone who took the time to attend and participate in the meeting.