Saanich could be in for years of gathering, analyzing and translating public feedback into public policy as it seeks to replace the rescinded Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. Saanich council agreed to spend up to $250,000 on the search for a replacement. Black Press File.

Update: Saanich spends up to $250,000 on search for EDPA replacement

While council approved funding unanimously, it will likely take years to find replacement

Saanich will spend up to $250,000 from its strategic reserve fund and seek public feedback on the search for a replacement for the rescinded Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw.

“It is going to require time, it’s going to require resources — that is why we have this motion here tonight — and it will require commitment,” saidCoun. Susan Brice, who proposed the motion. “This is one of those long-term decisions that council makes.”

The unanimously approved motion calls on Saanich develop a report that would bring forward options for a Saanich-specific program to “serve as a policy framework” for other environmental policies and programs with climate adaption, biodiversity and stewardship as topics.

It also calls on staff that “a new Environmental Development Permit Area be considered” part of this program and that the recommendations of a long-awaited but never realized report by Diamond Head Consulting Ltd. “be considered as a component of this report.”

Saanich approved the funding after council had rescinded the EDPA, which Saanich had introduced in March 2012 to protect environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs).

Coun. Fred Haynes described the move as a “good first step” that will also partially serve as a “healing process” for the community that will give all parties a say.

“It was a tough set of meetings that we had [over the EDPA], and I think it was the most challenging decision I have had through this council to move this forward and get us to a position where we can work collectively together for a better outcome,” he said.

Council, meeting as committee-of-the-whole, rescinded the EDPA 5-4 on Oct. 28.

This vote surprised many because it happened during a meeting scheduled to receive public input on various recommendations to improve the EDPA and symbolized the deep divisions that had sprung up around the bylaw.

Council later confirmed this vote, but also promised an alternative policy.

Brice said her motion reflects those previous decisions. Whether councillors favoured or opposed the rescinding of the EDPA, all spoke “of the critical need” to have a replacement bylaw, she said.

It is uncertain when this replacement will appear. While staff could have a report on options by the end of the year, it would only be one milestone along a path that could take “years ” to complete, as Atwell said.

Plant also warned against high expectations. “Until we get this report, there is very little to nothing that is going to be happening that is different as a result of rescinding the EDPA,” he said.

Relying on maps of sensitive eco-systems, the EDPA restricted development in certain pockets of Saanich for the purpose of protecting Saanich’s few remaining areas of Garry oak and associated ecosystems.

Applicable to more than 2,000 properties, the EDPA impacted some five per cent of all private properties in Saanich, many of them in the wealthier parts of the municipality. Public land (mostly parks) accounted for fifty-two per cent of land previously subject to the EDPA.

The functioning of the EDPA became a focus of public attention no later than March 2016, when Saanich held a special meeting into the EDPA that drew hundreds to the Pearkes Recreation Centre. Critics, whose ranks grew as the years past, lamented that the EDPA was paternalistic, restrictive and scientifically flawed by relying on maps from the 1990s.

Atwell called it “draconian” and Harper won last September’s byelection by promising to scrap it.

Facing public pressure, Saanich subsequently commissioned a report into the future of EDPA, but never implemented its recommendations,

as council meeting as committee-of-the-whole voted 5-4 to rescind the bylaw on October 28, 2017.

Other questions are also bound to emerge as Saanich seeks to find a replacement.

One question concerns costs. If council were to approve Brice’s motion, it will have spent no less than $300,000 on reports into the future of the EDPA. Saanich had earlier commissioned Diamond Head Consulting Ltd. at a cost of $50,000.

While this minimum figure of $300,000 appears small in the grand scheme of things, it nonetheless represents funding that did not go towards other items, and EDPA supporters can easily argue Saanich could have saved itself this expense by reforming rather scrapping the bylaw, especially, if the search for a replacement “would be extensive and require significant resources,” as the notice of motion from Brice acknowledged.

“It was acknowledged that attempting to include adequate project funding in next year’s budget would be challenging because of other costs pressures,” she said. Hence, the recommendation to tap into Saanich’s strategic initiative fund.

While Brice’s motion calls on staff to consider the report from Diamond Head Consulting “as a component” of any future report, it is not yet clear how staff would incorporate it into a future EDPA replacement, and whether its findings will remain relevant.

It should also be pointed out that the report recommended keeping rather than scrapping the EDPA.

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