There is a clear theme emerging in the development applications being brought forward in Saanich. Many greatly contravene the scale and form that are allowed or considered reasonable by planning, zoning and other guiding documents, and a dismayingly large number conflict with neighbourhood expectations and values.
New developments ideally complement and blend harmoniously into their neighbourhoods. To avoid a regrettable mismatch and potential conflicts, neighbourhood input needs to be integrated into the development application process from the conceptual stage. Unfortunately, this crucial step is generally avoided by developers, which inevitably creates an “us versus them” scenario.
Saanich currently has no formalized public consultation requirements for proposed developments, regardless of how much their scale exceeds zoning limitations, and no matter how many variances (density, height, parking, building setbacks, etc.) are requested. All significant development proposals, and particularly those non-conforming to planning documents and existing site zoning, should be required to complete a substantive public review.
The present system favours developers by unreasonably placing the onus on neighbourhood residents to be vigilant and proactive in responding to their proposals, which is necessarily done on a piecemeal and ad hoc basis. Given the diversity between neighbourhoods, developments in some locations will generate little public feedback, while considerable public reaction can be expected in other areas. Standardization would level the playing field throughout Saanich and provide a more consistent and predictable outcome.
A public hearing is far too late in the planning process to seek public opinion. By then the Planning Department has already made its recommendation to elected representatives. Further, public hearings are inherently flawed and should not be solely relied upon in responsible decision-making, as developers commonly prompt their staff and representatives to present views on their behalf, many of whom do not even live nearby.
Including neighbourhood feedback as an integral component of the development application process has the added benefit of providing the developer with a higher level of certainty about the outcome. It also minimizes unproductive delays, wasted financial outlays, frustration and uncertainty for the developer, municipal staff and nearby residents. Additionally, it provides a significantly greater potential to refine the project for the betterment of all, well before the proposal is brought forward to Saanich council.