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Narrow council vote in North Saanich paves way for new OCP draft

Next council expected to receive draft in early 2023, according to staff report
North Saanich council has tasked staff with drafting a new OCP. (Black Press Media file photo)

North Saanich council has asked staff to start drafting a new Official Community Plan (OCP).

Mayor Geoff Orr joined Couns. Patricia Pearson, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger in favour of drafting with Couns. Heather Gartshore, Jack McClintock and Celia Stock opposed.

Orr said he sees value in going forward with the drafting at this stage even with an election looming and uncertainty around housing-related elements of the plan.

“The majority of that work (is on) things that the majority of the community supports,” he said, referring to policy work around agriculture, around environment and other elements.

Council had earlier received and endorsed a report of 30 recommendations from consultants handling the OCP review since March 2020. The current OCP, a foundational document spelling out future land uses, dates to 2007 and the review has been a source of controversy in the community for various reasons, from pandemic-driven delays to rising costs.

Monday’s vote moves the process forward, but also means a new council will receive the draft, estimated to be sometime in “early 2023.” With four current council members not running for re-election, the new group will have to decide whether to complete the process, ask for revisions or scrap the process.

Stock pointed to this very possibility in her remarks.

“You have to look at our credibility,” she said. “This document is about the future of our community. It will be valid for the next 15 to 20 years and here we are at the end of our term.”

RELATED: North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr will not seek re-election this October

McClintock questioned whether the recommendations actually enjoy support, adding many rest on “narrow” majorities. “Unless you have 65, 70, even 80 per cent of the people wanting a shift or wanting to promote a recommendation, that is when you get support.”

Weisenberger countered that argument, saying, “that would put the next council in the best position to move ahead one way or the other. We have done a huge amount of consultation. To think that an item such as this in North Saanich, that we are going to get 75 per cent support in any direction is just wishful thinking,” he said.

While the draft will not please all residents, he added, “we are elected to make decisions for the good of the community … it’s about leadership.”

In a later interview, Smyth said the draft will present the public with some actual substance.

Asked whether the next council is being presented with a document that could almost be considered a fait d’accompli, he said the future council has the option of doing what it wants with the draft.

Housing continues to divide council. Orr, Pearson, Smyth and Weisenberger saved five recommendations favouring, among other items, residential infill in North Saanich’s southeast quadrant and a review of policies critics say make it impossible to build affordable housing.

Two of the five actually scale back previous recommendations, including reducing the area dedicated for apartment buildings in McTavish Village. Gartshore, McClintock and Stock wanted that element to disappear entirely.

Other aspects once deemed controversial will not end up in a future draft, including the idea of a community hub in Deep Cove, which consultants recommended removing “due to a lack of community support” and designating as per the existing OCP.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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