North Saanich residents will not learn until next year whether the municipality will continue to fund its official community plan review, as councillors deferred several key decisions during a lengthy meeting Monday.
Council instead asked staff to advance work on a draft OCP based on six themes of agriculture and local food systems, marine and natural systems, climate action, healthy communities and jobs, but not housing and affordability, the last issue likely being the greatest cause of controversy.
Prominent community voices including former mayor Alice Finall have said the municipality has had an “excessive focus on housing,” and expressed fears the OCP review will open up North Saanich to development out of touch with its perceived character as rural, agricultural community. Such criticisms have been countered by a smaller, less vocal chorus, who say the community needs more density in select locations to improve housing affordability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Council’s decision this week to advance work on the OCP without considering housing and affordability asked staff to explore a separate engagement process around those issues and report back with a revised engagement work plan for the next phase of the review and budget.
This move means council has not yet formally approved the third phase of a process designed to engage residents. It also withholds, for now, a potential $127,000 in additional funding for the review, the total cost for which is now approaching half a million dollars, Coun. Celia Stock pointed out during the meeting.
Council last month received for information a revised report from consultant MODUS Planning that synthesized input received so far into the six themes. Staff also recommended council push ahead with the third phase of engagement and approve the funding along with a technical report spelling out land-use options.
But council deferred decisions on those recommendations last month, and for a second time on Monday. Council asked staff to determine whether the municipality can keep the process moving by removing housing and affordability from the review, then fold it back in at a future time.
Mayor Geoff Orr admitted sending the matter back to staff delays the OCP review, but he defended the decision.
“If we can’t get to a place where we think the engagement process is going to be effective to help us communicate with the community, and feel we are moving forward in addressing these matters that are important to the community and that it hasn’t been seeing, then there is no point in spending more money on that process,” Orr said.
Coun. Jack McClintock opposed sending the issue back to staff, predicting it would not yield new insights.
The consultant and staff also voiced concerns about the decision. Working on the draft without including housing would lead to an incomplete document, MODUS principal Robert Barr said, while North Saanich director of planning Brian Green added that a separate process on housing could actually further divide the community.
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