As Saanich considers expanding an environmental bylaw that severely restricts development on some private properties, one local homeowner is questioning why the municipality failed to inform him about existing restrictions on his property.
Fergus Kyne bought his Derby Road home nine years ago knowing the 1/4-acre lot could potentially have an artist’s studio in the backyard.
But Kyne only recently learned that his backyard is one of four properties on the street subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA), a development protection bylaw approved in March 2012 that requires owners to seek permission for practically any disturbance to vegetation or soil on the property. The EDPA also puts tighter restrictions on the construction of most outbuildings.
“The question I have is how would anybody know about this restriction if it’s not on land title? It’s highly unlikely people will be calling Saanich when they’re putting in gravel or mulch,” said Kyne, who is also a real estate agent.
The EDPA relies on aerial maps of potentially sensitive ecosystems – created by the federal and provincial governments in the 1990s – that had led the municipality to restrict development in and around tree canopy and other areas deemed possible environmentally sensitve ecosystems. (A cluster of trees at the back of Kyne’s property feeds into a Garry oak meadow beside Doncaster elementary school.)
Removal from the EDPA requires homeowners to pay for a professional biologist’s report to prove their property no longer supports a sensitive ecosystem. Even then, removal is at the discretion of the municipality and council.
A report brought to Saanich’s environment and natural areas advisory committee on Tuesday reveals staff are now recommending the expansion of the EDPA guidelines to include any remnant or degraded ecosystem in the District, rather than following provincial and federal guidelines that deal strictly with sensitive ecosystems.
“The implications are there could be thousands more properties added to the EDPA,” said Ted Lea, a registered professional biologist with over 40 years of experience in ecosystem mapping and inventory. “It would imply that Cedar Hill golf course should all be within the EDPA and restored to Garry oak ecosystems. That’s how absurd this direction is.”
Lea also warned that homeowners will be expected to put in the onerous work to restore areas to their natural state, which is next to impossible without continued intervention.
“Saanich is saying they want to protect what’s left from being taken over by invasive plants. But even the best examples like Mt. Doug or Mt Tolmie have invasive species like grass and broom taking over,” Lea said. “And they’re impossible to stop without heroic efforts and huge outlays of money. Saanich isn’t taking care of their own properties, so I just can’t understand why they think private owners should be expected to do that.”
Dean Murdock, chair of Saanich’s environment and natural areas advisory committee, said the staff report simply clarifies EDPA guidelines and help “identify areas of sensitivity, so that when there is a change or a subdivision, those areas that have been identified are protected.”
Murdock said the EDPA guidelines will be debated by council at a meeting in March, but he compared the restrictions to those governing development around streamside areas in the District.
“These are guidelines, so there will be some interpretation and discussion about how they’re applied. They’re not meant to be applied rigidly,” Murdock said.
Guy Crozier, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, said uncertainty around how Saanich staff will interpret EDPA guidelines will likely cause concern for potential buyers.
“I do think it’s fair to say any rule that shrinks a pool of buyers is going to have some type of effect on the value. That’s just a law of economics,” said Crozier, who added the guideline changes have yet to play out at the council table.
“There are some real positives,” Crozier said. “I don’t think Saanich would have done it unless they thought it was a good idea. But it’s all supply and demand. I think long-term that probably this is going to have some type of effect of price.”
Murdock defended the EDPA restrictions as being a potential attractive feature to other homebuyers.
“Usually, it’s the natural beauty of that area that drove people to make a home purchase,” Murdock said. He added the issue of including remnant ecosystems will be forwarded to committee of the whole to garner public input prior to a decision at the council table.
“I’m certainly keen on public input on any change we’re going to make. This is going to have an impact on landowners,” Murdock said.