A Saanich couple will get a second hearing to make their case for excluding a portion of their oceanfront property from development guidelines that propose to protect the environment but continue to divide the community. And if the first hearing offers any glimpse of the future, the second hearing promises to be a divisive occasion.
Following almost two hours of heated public input and debate, council voted 7-2 Monday to schedule a public hearing for the partial exclusion from the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw that Saanich’s previous council had passed in 2012 to protect bio-diversity, mitigate damage to the environment during construction and restore habitat.
The vote means that Guy and Sandra Screech are one vote away from escaping the EDPA designation that covers portions of their Sea View Road property.
Coun. Colin Plant wondered whether council could postpone debate until after receiving a consultant’s report expected next year, and Coun. Leif Wergeland asked whether council could exempt the property from any eventual changes to the bylaw under a grandfather clause.
Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said it will be up to council how it chooses to deal with any of the properties that have been or could be excluded from the current bylaw, or “how they are dealt with potentially in a new bylaw” following the review.
“And I don’t think, from a staff point of view, we can pre-suppose what the outcome of that process might be,’’ he said.
Other members of council including Mayor Richard Atwell acknowledged the review and its potential impact on the EDPA bylaw, but stressed council had an obligation to consider individual requests for exclusion, if it wanted to remain fair and maintain the credibility of the exclusion process.
“We have a procedure in place and enforcement of it,” said Atwell. “We have provided for a process and in this particular case I have seen enough to allow the removal as it has been requested. If we were not to do that at this point…we would be pulling the rug from under our residents.”
Couns. Vic Derman and Vicki Sanders, who wanted to wait until council had received the report, opposed the property’s exclusion from the EDPA. An informal count found speakers favouring exclusion outnumbered opponents by a two-to-one margin.
Derman questioned the motivation of the owners to exclude the property.
“The ones that I have in my report suggest that the owners want to be able to mow their lawn and move the lawn furniture without a requirement permit. Those things are permitted within the EDPA and they certainly do not need removal from the EDPA to enjoy that aspect of their property,’’ he said.
According to formal documentation, the applicants want to remove part of their property from the EDPA because it does not feature any sensitive eco-systems.
Derman did not buy this argument, noting the bylaw also tries to preserve the possibility of restoring EDPAs to their prior natural state.
Derman also took aim at biologist Ted Lea, whom the applicants had hired as part of the exclusion process. While Derman said he does not question Lea’s sincerity in setting a “high standard” for which natural areas “could be worthy of protection,” other biologists do not have the same standard.
“They believe that the opportunity for restorations and other factors merit protection even if the property does not have the purity of natural ecosystems that Mr. Lea would require.”
These arguments drew sharp criticism from other councillors.
“Nowhere did we say that the motive of the individual was going to be interrogated…and this particular applicant has the purest of motives. He is an honest, taxpaying homeowner who simply wants peace of mind,“ said Coun. Susan Brice, adding that biologists are subject to professional standards of ethics.
“Questioning professional ethics, questioning professional standards should be questioned,” said Coun. Fred Haynes.
To suggest that some of these biologists are “hired guns” undermines the standards that the district had set, he said.
The long night and its tenor left many councillors visibly frustrated, perhaps none more than Coun. Colin Plant.
While he noted that the applicant lacked any good reason to exclude the property, he said he was prepared to push the process forward.
But he said he also “absolutely hated this decision” and expressed hope that the next hearing on this file would be more amicable.
“I don’t want to hear four more hours of input at the bylaw hearing, because I think we have heard it.’’