Biologist, residents blast Saanich over environmental protection bylaw

Saanich resident Anita Bull believes few affected homeowners are aware of restrictive Environmental Development Permit Area

Anita Bull

Anita Bull

A local biologist believes an environmental bylaw meant to protect sensitive ecosystems on more than 2,000 properties in the District isn’t following provincial guidelines and wasn’t properly implemented.

The Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) was approved by council in March 2012 and relies on aerial maps of sensitive ecosystems  – created by the federal and provincial governments in the 1990s – that restricts development in certain pockets of the District.

“The bylaw is good intent, it’s just not being implemented correctly,” said Ted Lea, a registered professional biologist with over 40 years of experience in ecosystem mapping and inventory.

Development Permits are needed when homeowners wish to make any changes to the affected EDPA areas including changes to vegetation; removal, deposit or disturbance of soils; bringing in fill, top soil or compost to the property; constructing temporary buildings and structures; and constructing trails; and digging up the EDPA area for any reason.

One problem with the EDPA’s implementation, said Lea, is that Saanich was meant to use the aerial maps as a “flagging tool” to identify sensitive ecosystems and then conduct field work to further refine boundaries.

But that field work wasn’t proactively done. Instead, the onus is now on an estimated 2,600 homeowners to hire a biologist at their expense if they wish to have their property considered for removal from the EDPA and have subsequent development restrictions lifted, Lea said.

“The guidelines require someone at District to go on the ground and say, ‘Yes, this is a sensitive ecosystem or it’s not.’ If it’s not, it comes out of the inventory,” Lea said. “What Saanich did instead was simply take the government maps and throw the EDPA over it.”

Adriane Pollard, Saanich’s manager of environmental services, confirmed in an email that the maps “were not inventoried by Saanich on the ground.”

Pollard said mapping refinements instead happen when a landowner brings forward a development application.

When significant changes or removal of a property is requested by a landowner, council approval is required, she said. (The District is also undertaking an Environmentally Sensitive Area mapping initiative. Those areas could also be subject to the EDPA.)

Norman Webb, who owns a 1.3-acre property on Christmas Hill, discovered he was subject to EDPA restrictions while planning to sell his home two years ago.

Webb’s niece, Anita Bull, hired Lea to determine whether or not an environmentally sensitive ecosystem exists on the property. Lea concluded no such ecosystem was present, but the District said several Garry oak trees on the property meant the land would remain within the EDPA, Bull said.

“If a backyard is just lawn and garden, it’s not a sensitive ecosystem,” Lea said. “I agree that maintaining tree corridors is sometimes really important, but this is about sensitive ecosystems.”

Coun. Vicki Sanders, who chaired Saanich’s environmental and natural areas advisory committee when the EDPA was developed, said the bylaw was intended to protect sensitive areas in the face of increasing development pressure. She compared it to a 2006 bylaw restricting development and protects natural ecosystems near streamside areas.

“The idea it was a benefit for the larger community,” Sanders said. “With the Christmas Hill property, this is part of a contiguous forest that goes right up Christmas Hill. We’re talking about an ecosystem that supports wildlife.”

But uncertainty around how the EDPA will impact development and property values remains. Bull believes her uncle’s market value has been “diminished severely” by the restrictions.

“I’ve door-knocked on 60 affected Broadmead homes and only one of those homeowners knew about this. None had received notification. They were livid,” Bull said.

Saanich’s environmental services department is preparing a report “to increase clarity based on the intention of Council,” Pollard said.

That report will likely be discussed at Saanich’s environmental and natural areas committee on Feb. 24 and at a later date at council.