A spokesperson for the company that is drafting North Saanich’s new official community plan said he looks forward to meeting with the new council to ensure the new draft reflects the full range of community values.
But Patrick Oystryk, senior planner at MODUS, also questioned the technical feasibility of suspending the OCP process.
He made the comments to Black Press Media when asked about the future of the process and the role of MODUS after North Saanich elected a new council that is widely critical of the process. Critics like Save North Saanich fear what they call the suburbanization of North Saanich.
Oystryk said MODUS has helped create OCPs and other long-range planning documents for small rural communities as diverse as Sparwood, Smithers, Hope, Campbell River, Lillooet, North Cowichan and many others, including Sydney and Central Saanich.
“We have considerable experience in planning, urban design and engagement work on Vancouver Island,” he said. “Understanding that we are not local experts in many of the communities in which we are asked to work, we strive to facilitate in-depth community engagement that reveals local knowledge and makes these plans all the more relevant and locally appropriate. We also work closely with city staff, councils and local groups to ensure our work reflects the community context.
The outgoing board gave MODUS the go-ahead to draft a new OCP in August 2022 and Oystryk said the company is working to deliver it in early 2023.
But that was before the election of the new council, whose mayor-elect Peter Jones has promised to suspend the OCP review process for two months.
However, it seems unlikely that such a suspension is possible. “Our contract doesn’t talk about suspending the process,” said Oystryk, who pointed to the financial implications of such a move. “If the council were to direct the project team to suspend our work, we would need to meet with district staff and determine the impact on project scope.”
Oystryk said MODUS has yet to meet with the new council but is keeping in touch with staff. When asked for a reaction on the important role the OCP review played in the election, Oystryk said OCPs are important documents that relate directly to the future of grassroots communities.
“To that end, it is no surprise that the content of an OCP is an important topic for an election and we are keen to meet with the (mayor and councillors) to discuss how best to ensure that the draft OCP reflects the range of communities. values found in North Saanich,” he said.
When asked why the OCP reviews in Sidney and Central Saanich went much better than in North Saanich, Oystryk said those communities had largely settled key questions regarding growth and development. “They have urban containment boundaries that direct growth to those locations and affordable housing policies that help build new units for those struggling to find housing in the area.”
The situation is different in North Saanich. “(The) question of where expected population growth should be accommodated and what affordable housing should look like in North Saanich is uncertain and inherently more difficult,” he said.
He pointed to the unstable status of the McTavish and Tsehum areas, which are not included in the Capital Regional District’s regional growth strategy, creating uncertainty as to how the OCP should view them.
“The current OCP land use designation applied in these areas is Multi-Family Affordable Housing which allows for apartment buildings of up to (three) stories and the housing units must be 100% affordable,” a- he declared. “However, since its inception, not a single affordable housing unit has been built under this designation.”
Oystryk said MODUS’ commitment shows that many residents care about protecting North Saanich’s rural character, especially its wealth of natural assets and farmland. “We also heard that new, affordable housing should be located near important services like transit, jobs and amenities,” he said. “These are not mutually exclusive visions, and we hope to achieve both through this OCP review process.”
Oystryk said MODUS understands the importance of an OCP and the passion that comes with policy changes that can impact neighborhoods.
“Addressing challenges such as the climate crisis, coastal restoration, food security and housing affordability is no easy task and often involves difficult conversations,” he said. “We have had great experiences with many residents from all over (North Saanich) and we appreciate the opportunity to work in communities where the challenges are complex and where our efforts can have a significant impact. We don’t shy away from these difficult conversations and in fact invite them.
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