Saanich will not stand in the way of a proposed land swap between two neighbouring communities that promises to bring prosperity to a local First Nation but also encourage urban sprawl.
Council voted 7-1 Monday, with Coun. Vickie Sanders opposed, to approve an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy of the Capital Regional District that calls for a complex land exchange between the District of Metchosin, the City of Langford and the Beecher Bay First Nation (Sc’ianew).
The proposed amendment would transfer 154 hectares of land from Metchosin to Langford, which would then develop a portion of the swapped property into a business park from which the Beecher Bay First Nation would receive a share of future tax revenues thanks to a proposed one-third ownership share.
Three parcels of provincial land currently offered to the First Nations as part of treaty process negotiations would receive permanent park protection and fall under the jurisdiction of Metchosin.
This issue appeared before council because a staff report had recommended rejection of the amendment, because the “proposed amendment is contrary to the regional growth strategy objectives, namely keeping settlement compact.”
The report read in part that “[allowing] more intense development in rural areas would encourage urban sprawl and create a growth centre at the fringe of the RUCSPA (Regional Urban Containment and Servicing Policy Area), contributing to regional greenhouse gas emissions and traffic demand.”
CRD procedures give each member community until Jan. 9, 2017 to formulate a formal response to the proposed amendment. The CRD assumes support from communities that do not submit a formal response.
The amendment placed councillors in a precarious situation. Not only did it invite charges of meddling in the affairs of other municipalities, it also pitted the future environmental interests of a region against the economic and historical rights of a local First Nations finding itself in the middle of sensitive treaty negotiations.
While these two categories are not mutually exclusively, councillors’ comments generally fell into the second after receiving input from Metchosin’s Mayor John Ranns and Beecher Bay First Nation’s Russ Chipps.
Ranns said Saanich’s opposition to the proposed land swap would run the risk of undermining the very character of Metchosin.
The band’s proposed exchange of the three provincial parcels removes the possibility of dense and therefore costly urban development in the heart of Metchosin over which it would have no authority, said Ranns. “If you reject this [amendment] tonight, I firmly believe that long term it will not survive as a rural community if those three parcels are developed, and ultimately we will probably be amalgamated into Langford, Colwood, or whatever and that will be the end of that.”
Chipps struck an even more dramatic, sometime confrontational tone in his remarks. Saanich’s rejection could thwart a process that lasted 20 years, said Chipps, who openly questioned the agenda of the regional growth strategy and its urban containment boundary.
“Did it even consider that there would be a treaty? Were we left out of that process?” he asked. “Of course you are going to get a report, saying it is against [the regional growth strategy], because you left us out. You don’t think about that when you designed that process.”
He also raised the spectre of conflict with Metchosin. “We will find another way to survive, but when we do Metchosin is not going to like it. We are not going to be that strong community…we are not going to reconciliate. We are not going to come together when that happens.”
Coun. Dean Murdock thanked staff for making a recommendation that is “based on principle and based on the values” that Saanich council and the CRD have endorsed.
“For that reason, it is a sound recommendation,” he said. “I don’t take lightly rejecting that recommendation, because under normal circumstances, it would be exactly the compelling rationale that would be applied in order to support what was recommended for us this evening. But these are extraordinary circumstances and I think it was highlighted extremely well by the leaders of both communities this evening why this is a creative solution.”
It respects the intent of an urban containment boundary, while still allowing a community to achieve development.
“It is not the kind of thing that I would be supporting, but there are very good reasons why this is supportable and I don’t want myself on the wrong side of history.”
Sanders agreed that the amendment would benefit the treaty process and help protect parkland in Metchosin. But it could also lead to more urban sprawl in the areas where the regional growth strategy has been trying to prevent it. “So I’m struggling with it…it is not that I don’t support (the treaty process), because I do,” she said. “But I will have to say to Coun. Murdock, I guess, I will be on the wrong side of history on this one.”