Provisions designed to “protect and restore” ecologically sensitive areas remain in effect until the conclusion of a public hearing that will consider the proposed temporary suspension.
Council last week voted 5-4 to pass a motion proposed by Coun. Colin Plant to temporarily suspend the application of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) to single family dwellings as part of an ongoing review of the bylaw.
But that vote did not temporarily lift the provisions, merely signal council’s decision to do so. So it is conceivable but perhaps unlikely that council may yet change its mind following the public hearing.
“In terms of the legalities of the implementation, council has given a clear direction that the suspension is to occur,” said Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer, during Monday’s council meeting in responding to a process question from Plant. “However, the implementation of that [suspension] requires a public hearing to be legal.”
Until such a time, the provisions of the bylaw remain in effect, he said. Saanich has not yet announced a date for such a public hearing, but is looking to “schedule that as expediently as possible,” Thorkelsson said.
The print edition of the Saanich News first reported last Friday that council had temporarily suspended the EDPA guidelines for single residence dwellings.
District staff then contacted the paper to alert it of the public hearing requirement and the online version of the story later clarified the process surrounding the proposed suspension.
The public hearing requirement, however, also appeared to catch members of council off guard and Thorkelsson prefaced his comments to Plant’s question with the following statement.
“I do apologize to council that we weren’t able to provide all of that information to council,” he said. “We were doing this on the fly at the last council meeting.”
That meeting also signalled council’s support for the exclusion of eight properties from EDPA guidelines. Those properties – along with seven more exclusion requests following Monday’s council meeting – will also be subject to a public hearing.
It is not clear whether the district will schedule separate hearings or combine them.
Equally uncertain is whether a singular or multiple hearings would add anything to the public discourse about the EDPA that is not yet known.
The pros and cons of the EDPA bylaw have become familiar, a point Mayor Richard Atwell raised Monday when council considered the latest exclusion requests.
“I’m really not sure what to say that hasn’t been said before,” he said.
He joined Couns. Plant, Fred Haynes, Susan Brice and Leif Wergeland in forwarding the applications for exclusion to public hearing, noting that the property owners followed the guidelines for exclusion, which he described as a “matter of practicality.”
Efforts to restore the properties have proven futile, he said. “I don’t see these properties returning to the desired state,” Atwell said. “I would much rather focus on our parks and other areas which can be enjoyed by the community as a whole and these properties don’t meet that criteria.”
Haynes agreed, noting the nature of the evidence from professional registered biologist Ted Lea that the applicants had presented.
“Last week, we looked at several applicants and we had the suggestion there is some co-mingling, that these are actually subdivision applications,” he said. “However, it is the process that was established last year and this is the process we are in. And the applicants have met that criteria.”
With Coun. Vic Derman absent, Couns. Judy Brownoff, Vickie Sanders and Dean Murdock voted against sending the exclusion requests to a public hearing, citing environmental concerns.
“I think we find ourselves in a position where we are always chasing lands of higher ecological values and eventually we are going to run out of those lands,” said Murdock. “The idea behind the EDPA was to create a snapshot of what was at stake,what could potentially be lost and then reconcile that with the applications that would come forward.”
He also sounded a philosophical note about the nature of the debate concerning the EDPA.
“I offer the observation that we are able to look at the facts and come away with two separate conclusions, which makes me think that we are operating more on philosophy than on fact and that troubles me,” he said. “Because I think we are going to continue to see these applications and we are going to continue to see the same pattern present itself.”