Saanich receives anticipated EDPA report

A long-awaited report calls on Saanich to improve the “shared understanding” of the “intent and purpose” of a bylaw designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs).

Saanich commissioned the report from Diamond Head Consulting, which found that the Environmental Development Permit (EDPA) Area bylaw needs to be more “detailed and explicit” in offering 15 recommendations to said end.

The EDPA has been the subject of considerable public controversy, a point found early in the report, which says a detrimental “acrimonious social discourse” has discouraged several people from speaking on the subject.

“It has become evident to our team through engagement that the District, public, developers and environmental professionals will need to make efforts to rebuild trust in the EDPA Bylaw and process to move forward with the protection of ESAs on private property, and that this need will not be resolved solely by implementing the recommendations of this review,” the report reads.

The 15 recommendations themselves aim to revise several defects in the EDPA and its application that review and public input had revealed. Some of the recommendations support implementation of the EDPA, while others improve and clarify the bylaw itself.

Perhaps the most central recommendation calls on Saanich to develop a “science-based Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, in collaboration with the community, that provides a basis for policy decisions to protect Environmentally Significant Areas in Saanich.” Such a strategy would “provide the vision, goals and objectives for environmental protection in Saanich, all of which were highlighted as important by the community throughout this review.” The report however stressed that Saanich would have to develop such a strategy on its own.

The report also calls on Saanich to “more directly link” the EDPA with policies found in the Official Community Plan (OCP) and include “specific language” defining ESAs.

“Through the engagement process we heard that stakeholders seem to agree that clearer justification, goals and measurable objectives are needed for environmental protection, restoration and connectivity in Saanich,” it read.

Other recommendations focus on Saanich’s practice of using maps to identify ESAs. “Through the engagement process we heard that stakeholders generally seem to agree that current mapping is inaccurate at the individual property scale,” he said. “This was the most common complaint heard throughout the engagement process.”

Accordingly, the report recommends Saanich use text-based descriptions instead of maps to identify properties that may contain ESAs, a practice that critics had long lamented.

The report marks the second major report addressing the EDPA. A report released in January found the EDPA has caused confusion, but done little to diminish property values, as EDPA critics have claimed. This so-called Rollo report however acknowledged that it was working with an insufficient sample of affected properties to “facilitate a thorough analysis” of the EDPA, an admission that might strike some as fatal since the report only studied the EDPA’s economic impact.

This second, more substantive report appears several weeks after council excluded nearly 30 properties from the EDPA revisions and ratified the temporary exclusions of single-residential properties from EDPA provisions, with exceptions for rezoning and subdivision applications following a mega-public hearing that revealed deep divisions among councillors. The report acknowledges both decisions, but neither comments nor contextualizes them.

The report does however recommend that Saanich waive its exemption from the EDPA, an acknowledgement of EDPA critics that have accused Saanich of intellectual hypocrisy.

Finally, the report appears to be bearing bad news for those who might have hoped that it signals the end of various EDPA controversies. “Full implementation of some recommendations will require additional detail beyond the scope of this review, including additional stakeholder engagement,” it read.

Some recommendations may take more than three years to implement.

Council will formally receive the report at meeting on July 24 and the public could comment on it as early as next month at a council meeting entirely dedicated to it.

Updates to follow.