Saanich council has ordered a review of the contentious environmental development permit area bylaw following Wednesday’s well-attended special session at the George Pearkes Community Centre.
Dozens of residents spoke as the heavily debated session went past 1 a.m. An estimated 250 people were in attendance with more than 50 people speaking.
Council voted unanimously on Option 2 from Saanich planning’s EDPA Review (released March 8), which will uphold the bylaw for now, but will hire a third party consultant or team to review the bylaw in depth. Option 1 would have repealed the bylaw altogether while Option 3 would maintain it as is.
Coun. Fred Haynes wasn’t in office when the EDPA was constructed and implemented in 2012 but has come to understand it since.
“When you look back at how it was implemented, the public consultation was there, there was an out clause, and everything seemed fair,” Haynes said.
Since 2014, several members of the public, including the group for a responsible EDPA, led by Anita Bull, has aired its opposition with planning, citing multiple biologist reports that dispute the existence of environmentally sensitive areas on properties included in Saanich’s ESA atlas. However, Saanich has disagreed with these findings.
One of the issues is a differing of interpretation over what constitutes a sensitive ecosystem between Saanich and the public, an area that needs exploring, Haynes said.
“For me, personally, I think we’re in the best place right now,” Haynes said. “The EDPA is about to undergo a massive review by a consultant, who will be selected by council and not by staff. The whole thing is more divisive than it should be.”
One of the heaviest debated topics Wednesday night was a motion by Coun. Leif Wergeland to exempt the properties of single family dwellings throughout the coming review, which council voted against.
“To withdraw single family residences from the EDPA is premature,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “Planning has had a consultant working on linking corridors [of Garry oak ecosystems] in Saanich for four years now, and single family residences are about 27 per cent of the EDPA. What would this do to all that work?”
Residents can still apply to remove their property from the EDPA, which is done on a case-by-case basis.
In 2015, Saanich processed 563 single family building permit applications. Ninety-four were reviewed by the environmental services staff because the property was located within the EDPA and only 15 required an environmental development permit.
Brownoff also countered an argument that Saanich isn’t doing enough to protect or restore its own sensitive properties from invasive species, such as its parks with Garry oak ecosystems.
“Twenty-two per cent of the EDPA atlas is zoned Saanich properties, either public or institution, and a lot is done there,” Brownoff said. “People are asking for leadership, and we do have the Pulling Together program. One of the problems is Saanich doesn’t communicate fully to all the things we’re doing out there.”
To that end Brownoff suggests a greater emphasis on education moving forward. “One resident suggested we hold workshops similar to what the CRD does on water conservation, only we could do drought-resistant native plants, perhaps with a local nursery supplying plants for sale at the workshop,” Brownoff said.
Haynes added that it’s important Saanich encourages residents to use native species and not to force it upon them.
Among the key topics in the review will be the EDPA’s highly criticized exit clause.
Council voted unanimously for an additional motion that staff would “create a 1-2 page document (and to share it) explaining the process for landowners who felt that their properties inclusion in the EDPA was an undue hardship,” said Coun. Colin Plant, who tabled the motion.
Brownoff expects the consultant process will start with a motion to post a request for proposals at the next council meeting, April 11.