Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing and fight climate change appear on the top of agenda for Central Saanich in 2020.
“Where do workers live, how do people afford housing, what kind of housing ultimately gets build will continue to be issues because of cost of living is a factor,” he said in a year-end-interview with the Peninsula News Review. “It affects people directly and the biggest expense generally is housing. I don’t expect that to change as a focus area in 2020.”
Windsor said current projections show the number of below-market housing units will rise to 186 from 80 units in the coming two years.
Overall, Windsor expects housing to be a priority in 2020, a point brought up earlier in December, when council considered a staff report that projects a housing shortfall of about 375 dwelling units by 2036 under the current Official Community Plan policies and land use bylaw regulations. The report projects that Central Saanich will grow at a rate of close to one per cent, with rental vacancies remaining persistently low at 0.6 per cent. The report notes among other points that housing affordability has increasingly become a challenge as the market continues to drive prices upward.
To this end, council has tasked staff to bring forward amendments to the Official Community Plan designed to encourage more infilling following public consultations earlier in 2019.
These changes will in turn inform a larger update of the Official Community Plan that will start in 2020 and continue into 2021 with a total cost of $150,000.
“It’s not a total rewrite, but it is also not a light touch,” said Windsor. “It is examining things thoroughly in the current document and bringing them into alignment with the reality of increased housing prices. Those were less of a factor in 2008 [during the last update]. We have had an increase of 65 per cent in property values in that time.”
Windsor said the municipality will also continue to move forward with various measures to fight climate change. They include steps to replace the municipality’s vehicle fleet with electric vehicles.
“They are some exciting things going on there [in the market for the electric vehicles] that will make it possible for us to transition some more of our vehicles in the next couple of years,” he said.
Looking at the bigger picture, Windsor said most of the community is reasonably well-protected from the effects of climate change. Some of that is geography, some of that is climate, he said. “In terms of infrastructure, we are updating our infrastructure to make sure it is resilient,” he said.
Overall, the District continues to identify areas of concern and priority within its climate action plan, said Windsor, who noted later that Central Saanich has one of the largest solar installations on Vancouver Island,
He also sounded optimistic about the timeline for the proposed $44-million flyover bypass at the intersection of Highway 17 and Keating Cross Road.
Current projections call for ground-breaking in 2021 with construction completed in 2023, he said.
Central Saanich also heads into 2020 as the first community on the Saanich Peninsula with a recreational cannabis retail outlet after council had approved a store in May 2019 in the 6700-block of Veyaness Road on the basis of a temporary licence which Windsor says will give the municipality some leeway in the future. Buds Cannabis opened its doors on Dec. 1 and so far Windsor has heard no concerns.
“To date, there has been nothing of note in the community that I have heard about it,” said Windsor. “Some people do not like them, other people think they are good,” he said. “That mixed opinion still exists, but this one has created no issues.”