When more than 400 people cram into a room on a rain-soaked night to share their views with local politicians, you know it’s no ordinary night for municipal council.
That was the case in Saanich earlier this month when people had to be turned away from the town hall meeting on the Environmental Development Permit Area because the Garth Homer auditorium couldn’t accommodate the crowd.
The bylaw – designed to protect biodiversity, mitigate development impacts and restore degraded ecosystems – has sparked a firestorm among local residents, convinced (often with good reason) that it will severely impact their property values.
The resounding public outrage seems to have resonated with members of Saanich council, who unanimously agreed to host an additional town hall to allow those unable to get through the doors of the Garth Homer Centre to still have their say on the matter. But the message has already been delivered loud and clear.
In the words of Coun. Colin Plant, “It’s overwhelming for council, beyond doubt, that the EDPA bylaw needs amendments.”
The question that remains is what form those amendments will take. It’s fair to say that most Saanich residents support actions that will protect the environment and are committed to preserving the area’s natural habitat for future generations.
However, numerous questions have been raised about which areas the EDPA bylaw is protecting, and more importantly, what mitigation could be made available to property owners adversely affected by the bylaw.
The EDPA bylaw will likely remain controversial, and Saanich council will never be able to accommodate all of the residents’ concerns. But council can take action to reduce some of the bylaw’s most adverse impacts.
Saanich needs to work towards a better environment. But that environment cannot come at a cost too high for its residents to bear.