Saanich council passed an amended version of a motion proposed by Coun. Zac de Vries (pictured) and Mayor Fred Haynes to review residential occupancy rules in Saanich following the eviction of seven university students. But council also heard criticism from the public. (File photo)

Saanich set to review residential occupancy rules

Several speakers asked Saanich to delay such a move until it has gathered more input

Saanich is moving ahead with plans to review the zoning bylaw that currently limits the number of unrelated occupants living in a residence, despite having heard calls for public consultation.

Coun. Colin Plant said he is not willing to wait to hear from the public before asking staff to review the bylaw.

“If we have a housing crisis, which I think we do, then I am willing to go directly to staff to ask for a report,” he said. “This council has to use a little bit of its political mandate from the election to actually take action, and if we truly believe in words, such as crisis, then we need to respond in the appropriate manner.”

If council appears unsatisfied with the findings of the report, it can always ask for additional public input, he said.

Plant made these comments after council had heard from concerned residents with several calling on council to ask for input before pushing ahead with the staff review.

Susan Haddon, president of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, was among those voices.

“We believe the issue needs more in-depth study and consideration, including community input, prior to any decision being made on the matter,” she said.

RELATED: Evicted UVic student questions Saanich’s housing bylaw

The issue itself arose after council heard from seven students at the University of Victoria, who had to leave their rented house, after Saanich bylaw had received a complaint about the number of unrelated individuals living in the house. The bylaw states that no more than four unrelated individuals can live in the same residence.

This, in turn, inspired Mayor Fred Haynes and Coun. Zach de Vries to ask bylaw staff to report on options to amend the bylaw to either increase or see the number of occupants align with the number of bedrooms or eliminate the limit.

RELATED: Saanich to revisit ‘discriminatory’ occupancy bylaw

Several speakers disagreed with this thrust, citing problems as partying and crowded on-street parking among others.

“I know [first hand] what it is like to have students in [a] home because that is exactly what I am living with next to me now in my Saanich house,” said Jeff St. Gelais in a letter to council. ‘The students are generally good neighbours, but there have been a few times where I had to speak to them because of poor behaviour. Some problems are remedied, some are not.”

Carolyn Somers questioned why Saanich is catering to students. “As a [senior], I am tired of everyone’s entitlement and wanting laws change for their convenience,” she said. “The students are here for such a short term, paying no property tax, yet are asking for new rules. Cut down our taxes if you are going to make residential areas free for alls.”

Haynes reminded the audience Monday’s vote did not mean Saanich was about to change the bylaw. It was instead about sending the occupancy issue to bylaw staff.

While Saanich also received public support for its review, council passed a revised motion that broadened the scope of the review in an apparent concession to some of the heard concerns, which draw attention to the often complex relationship between students and non-students.

RELATED: UVic student society calls for Saanich bylaw changes

Departments other than bylaw will also weigh in on the question while considering “possible impacts” of any future amendments.

While Haynes supported the final motion on the table, he opposed amending the original motion, because it would cause unnecessary delays.

“Here is an opportunity to move forward in a short time frame to hear back what is possible from our bylaws,” he said.

Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed with the need for broader staff review. “A better report would be a more fulsome report,” she added.


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