Saanich council was a haven of unrest Monday night as residents packed the chambers to speak to, and witness, whether or not council would remove two properties from the Environmental Development Permit Area.
After hours of public input – and the defeat of an impromptu motion to completely abolish the EDPA bylaw made by Mayor Richard Atwell – council voted to postpone any decision on the two properties until after Saturday’s EDPA Drop-In Open House at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre and an upcoming town hall forum (date to be determined).
“The crowd was angry and I’m sorry about that but we’re in the middle of a process that council approved,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff.
Brownoff initiated the motion to postpone any decision on the removal of the said properties, Rainbow Street lots 4007 and 4011, from the EDPA atlas.
“Gathering information and feedback at the open house and town hall is the process [we are in],” she said.
Postponement was supported by Couns. Dean Murdoch, Vicki Sanders, Vic Derman and Susan Brice, while Atwell, Leif Wergeland, and Colin Plant believed there was enough information on the table to remove the properties immediately. Coun. Fred Haynes was away.
Staff’s report recommended against removing the properties from the EDPA atlas as it could set a precedent. About 2,000 properties in Saanich are affected by the EDPA in various ways.
“There was some good things said [Monday] but it was premature,” Brownoff added. “There’s also a lot of misinformation. Some people were making claims that simply weren’t true.”
The residents in attendance were extremely vocal, clapping and cheering for anti-EDPA speakers and did not adhere to Atwell’s requests to refrain from cheering and clapping.
More than a dozen homeowners spoke against the EDPA. Many asked for the removal of the Rainbow Street properties, while many more claimed the bylaw’s restrictions are unlawfully devaluing their property’s worth.
The charged atmosphere made pro-EDPA residents feel unsafe, said Kristen Miskelly, one of two residents to speak to the EDPA’s importance on Monday.
“People came up to us after the council and said we wanted to speak but were afraid to speak because of the tone in the room. I didn’t feel safe leaving.”
Miskelly has a masters in biology, is a member of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team and has expertise in Garry oak ecosystem conservation and restoration.
“This is the most important question of our lifetime, protecting our habitat,” said Miskelly to a chorus of boos. “Owners are the stewards of the sites, the land will be here longer than us.”
Miskelly was shocked that Atwell would move to repeal the EDPA without conferring with council before hand.
“I’m not saying the EDPA is flawless or doesn’t need changes made to it, or that the voices we heard on Monday shouldn’t be heard,” Miskelly said. “But there’s a difference between fixing the EDPA and abolishing it completely, which means the small remaining ecosystems would be left unprotected and that scares me.”
Atwell said he felt he needed to be a voice on council for the public. Going forward, he will not bring back his motion to repeal the EDPA, an idea that came to him after a weekend of hearing residents’ concerns and “reading the crowd” on Monday night.