Central Saanich council signed off on language that promises to improve regional coordination.
Councillors last month unanimously approved a notice of motion from Coun. Niall Patliel inviting the mayors and staff of Sidney and North Saanich to meet with their Central Saanich counterparts to “discuss key priorities, policies, or regional planning objectives that could be addressed” as the three Peninsula communities update their respective Official Community Plans (OCP) in the coming years.
In other words, the stars appear to have aligned to improve regional cooperation. “There is a real, natural opportunity to do a better job of weaving them [the three OCPs] through,” said Paltiel. “I think our residents expect us to do a lot better when it comes to communicating and working together with the different municipalities,” he added later.
Paltiel said the issue came up against the backdrop of internal discussion for improved planning within the municipality and the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. Local environmental groups have also been pushing for the same, he added.
“That was a good spring-board for the conversation,” he said.
Paltiel said the areas of land-use planning, infrastructure and transportation offer the most obvious opportunities for cooperation across municipal boundaries. Better regional coordination around land-use and well-established structures such as sewers and roads also improve the region’s ability to leverage support from the provincial government, he said.
So why has this form of cooperation not happened in the past?
“Because we have old, out-dated OCPs,” he said. “We do try municipal meetings semi-regularly, and I find that the tri-municipal meetings, and I think others have felt this as well, are typically not always the greatest use of time. They can be of a dog-and-pony show.”
This said, the timing for this sort of cooperation is perfect, said Paltiel. “The OCP is really the fabric of planning within your community, and I hope, when you create a stronger network between municipalities [around their respective OCPs], that will then lead to other critical and important conversations with those municipalities in the future. I hope that this is the start of an improved dialogue between all three communities.”
One thing it is not though is a statement on amalgamation, he said. It is instead about being mindful of others, while each municipality works on its respective OCP. “It is about understanding better what each community is working towards in terms of goals and objectives, understanding the unique nature, character and framework of each community, and then determining a process that best respects [them] and moves forward together.”
While the OCP review process should reflect and respect the uniqueness of each municipality, it should also offer opportunities for them to move forward.
What about the idea of doing a joined OCP?
“Personally, I’m not closed off to that idea,” said Paltiel. “It would be analogous to the way Saanich or Victoria do their OCPs, where you would have one cohesive document for the Saanich Peninsula and then break each municipality into one or two local area plans, that are specific to the needs of that community. “
This said, he acknowledged that he has floated the idea in the past to mixed reviews.
Ultimately, he anticipates that municipalities will produce smaller, but more specific updates on various issues that will then feed into the larger document.
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