EDITORIAL: Expanding boundaries for affordable housing

The District of Saanich is making a concerted effort to increase the supply of affordable housing in the community. But some of those efforts are being choked off by the district’s agricultural roots.

Saanich staff are looking into ways that could bring illegal secondary suites into compliance to ease the housing crunch, with a report expected to come before council Aug. 13.

The number of legal suites (a few hundred) appear to be far below the potential suites (some 9,000), raising questions about why individuals are not taking steps to bring their secondary suites into compliance.

Saanich currently permits secondary suites in most but not all urban areas of the municipality, subject to a dozen conditions as described on Saanich’s website.

Further complicating matters is the urban containment boundary that Saanich established more than half a century ago. The boundary, based on sewer system capacity, is designed to protect agricultural lands and encourage density.

But the boundary that protects agricultural land has also put a crimp into development. Saanich has restricted residential properties outside the urban containment boundary from hooking up to the municipal sewer line. That policy might have run its course.

A lot has changed since the boundary was established in 1964, and having properties within close proximity to a major urban centre confined to a septic system hardly seems like a 21st century solution to the issue.

As Greater Victoria inches towards a wastewater treatment facility, we should be encouraging more properties to hook up to sewer. A policy that ties the preservation of agriculture to the lack of modern sanitary systems seems conspicuously out of date, not to mention carrying a potential for future environmental and health hazards.

Certainly society has seen enough advancements since the time of Prime Minister Lester Pearson to allow us to preserve our rural character without turning our back on modern amenities.

Saanich needs to take a fresh look at the urban containment boundary, with an eye on sustainable development that will meet the challenges of today while preserving the rich tradition the community was founded upon.

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