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Give EDPA fair consideration, says Saanich environment head

Residents worry Environment Development Permit area will affect their home values

Saanich’s manager of environmental services hopes to set the record straight on Saanich’s controversial Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw in the coming weeks, but she’ll need to overcome some community opposition to get there.

Despite the EDPA existing for three years with little to no controversy, Adriane Pollard is now at the centre of a very public battle between affected homeowners and the District.

The 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 led to development restrictions on properties in certain pockets of the District. The maps haven’t been refined on the ground, which had led many affected residents to worry that the EDPA restricts them from maintaining and adding new structures to their private properties. The District says it’s not as bad as all that, and after staff posted information boards and brochures at all of Saanich’s recreation centres, Pollard and her team will take part in an open house today from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

Residents will have a chance to consult with staff to learn exactly what their rights are if they do fall in the EDPA.

“We’ll have computers on hand so residents can see what it means if their property is within an EDPA zone,” Pollard said. “We’re hearing things about the EDPA that simply aren’t true. It seems to be a target right now.”

The newly formed Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA, led by Anita Bull, presented the organization’s concerns to Saanich council on May 25.

Bull and her group are targeting specific areas of the EDPA bylaw they would like to see re-written, and they’re asking for incentives for those residents who lose property value because of EDPA development restrictions.

Outside of that group, Pollard said she and her staff are hearing and seeing a lot of misinformation.

“If it seems wrong, it probably is wrong,” Pollard said. “The key thing is to call or email us at the planning department. … The first thing we do is visit the property to assess it for EDPA, (as) we know the initial mapping isn’t entirely accurate. And our staff do that, they are professionals.”

One misconception Pollard has heard is that people believe they can’t touch the existing landscape in the EDPA area of their property.

“We had a person not long ago who thought they couldn’t create a path through their yard to get to the water. They were surprised when we told them that actually, they could,” she said.

Garden sheds can also be erected within the EDPA as long as they’re completed with minimal impact, which is outlined in the EDPA literature, Pollard added.

Prior to the EDPA, Saanich had instituted its Streamside Development Permit Area in 2006. Pollard says the District intended the EDPA as the next step to protect rare species, and Garry oak and associated ecosystems.

“We’re lucky because we have things to protect in Saanich that other municipalities don’t,” Pollard said.

“We’re home to some rare species that only exist here, such as the Blue-grey Taildropper slug, which lives only in Saanich and a few other known sites of the South Island. And Saanich actually has five per cent of its remaining Garry oak (and associated) ecosystems, which is higher than the rest of the region.”

In 2012, Saanich sent letters to all affected addresses, advertised in the newspaper and put out a call for public consultation prior to the bylaw’s creation. But many residents remained unaware they were affected by the EDPA, or that it even existed.

“It’s always hard to engage residents,” Pollard said. “We’ve since heard a lot of different reasons why people didn’t hear about it but we followed our regular channels of communication.”

There are also a great many unheard voices from Saanich who are in support of the EDPA, she said.

“Whenever there is a development underway, the phone rings off the hook with concerned residents, especially when it’s an eco-sensitive area. The majority of Saanich residents understand riparian areas and Garry oak (ecosystems) are significant and we want people to understand there is more out there. We’re trying to raise the profile of these areas in a proactive way. ... What we really encourage (residents to do) is to come to the open house (today) or call us,” Pollard said.

To reach a member of the planning department, call 250-475-5471.

The EDPA Open House will take place in the Garry Oak Gymnasium at Saanich Commonwealth Place from 3 to 8 p.m. Additional literature explaining the EDPA is expected to be uploaded to by June 24.