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Amid contradictions, Saanich opts to preserve farmland
Saanich council found itself grappling with outdated and contradictory land policies Monday night during a rezoning request to allow development on designated farmland.
While one municipal document stated Saanich supports removing a parcel of Gordon Head land from the Agricultural Land Reserve for development, another document asserts the opposite.
By the end of Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, councillors said conflicting policies need to be changed, and that they favour keeping agricultural land intact.
“Our existing policy suggests this land should be sent to (Agricultural) Land Commission, but (council’s) mood is not to send it,” said Mayor Frank Leonard, referring to a rezoning application for a property at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd.
While the regional growth strategy (RGS) says any development should be within the urban containment boundary (this property is near the edge, but outside of that boundary). The Gordon Head local area plan (LAP) supports removing the property from the ALR for development.
An application to develop this property first came before council in March 2011. At the time, Coun. Dean Murdock called plans for a proposed 16-home subdivision “repugnant.”
The proposal presented Monday night was different than what was seen in 2011 – 12 homes and a large community garden – but Murdock says council’s message was clear the first time around.
“I’m not supporting the application for many of the reasons that this was last here. This is substantially the same application, but with a community garden in front,” he said.
“For us to support the removal of land from the ALR it would have to be such a compelling argument (and be) for the greater good of our community … not the development of more houses,” Coun. Susan Brice said when the first application failed.
Neighbour Pat Summers said she wasn’t surprised to see only a handful of residents at Monday’s meeting, as the neighbourhood “felt (the removal issue) was already dealt with.”
Council voted unanimously to reject the rezoning application and removal of the land from the ALR, but councillors were split on amending the Gordon Head LAP to be in line with the messaging of the RGS.
“I think that the community shouldn’t be overly excited (about our decision) because what could happen on the site could be quite different from what you could be expecting,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff.
The 1.64-hectare parcel of land currently includes one house, and a dense Garry oak forest.
Coun. Vic Derman argued that Saanich’s urban forest and Garry oak protection policies are being overridden by agricultural policies.
He said removing part of the property from the ALR could allow for protection of the Garry oaks.
“(Under current zoning), all the trees could come down and they could do things there that nobody liked,” he said. “This might be an opportunity to preserve those values. I think that’s the best possible outcome. … At least that would be something we can control.”
By a 5-4 vote, council voted to amend the Gordon Head LAP to clarify that removing that parcel of land from the ALR is not supported. Councillors Derman, Nichola Wade, Vicki Sanders and Mayor Leonard opposed that amendment.