A spokesperson for the company drafting North Saanich’s new official community plan said they are looking forward to meeting the new council to ensure the new draft reflects the full range of community values.
But Patrick Oystryk, senior planner with MODUS, also questioned the technical feasibility of suspending the OCP process.
He made these comments to Black Press Media when asked about the future of the process and MODUS’ role after North Saanich elected a new council largely 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 and rural communities as diverse as Sparwood, Smithers, Hope, Campbell River, Lillooet, North Cowichan and many others, including Sidney and Central Saanich.
“We have significant experience in planning, urban design, and engagement work across Vancouver Island,” he said. “Understanding that we aren’t local experts in many of the communities we are asked to work in, we strive to facilitate deep community engagement that reveals local knowledge and makes these plans all the more relevant and place-based. We also work closely with municipal staff, councils and local groups to ensure our work reflects the community context.”
The outgoing council gave MODUS the green light to draft a new OCP in August 2022 and Oystryk said the company is working towards delivering 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.
It appears unlikely though that such a suspension would be possible. “Our contract does not speak about suspension of the process,” said Oystryk, who pointed to the financial implications of such a move. “Should council direct the project team to suspend our work, we would need to meet with district staff and determine the impact on the project scope.”
Oystryk said MODUS has not yet met the new council but remains in contact with staff. When asked for a reaction about the large role that the OCP review played in the election, Oystryk said OCPs are important documents that relate directly to the future of people’s communities.
“To this end, it’s not surprising that the contents of an OCP would be an important topic for an election and we are keen to meet with the (mayor and councillors) to discuss how we can best ensure the draft OCP reflects the range of community values found in North Saanich,” he said.
When asked why the OCP reviews in Sidney and Central Saanich have gone go much smoother than in North Saanich, Oystryk said those communities have largely settled key questions around growth and development. “They have urban containment boundaries that direct growth to those locations and affordable housing policies that are helping build new units for those struggling to find homes in the region.”
The situation is different in North Saanich. “(The) question of where projected population growth should be accommodated and what affordable housing should look like in North Saanich is unsettled and inherently more challenging,” he said.
He pointed to the unsettled status of the McTavish and Tsehum areas, which are not included in the Capital Regional District’s Regional Growth Strategy, creating uncertainty about how the OCP should look at them.
“The current OCP land use designation applied in these areas is multi-family affordable housing that allows up to (three)-storey apartment buildings and the housing units must be 100 per cent affordable,” he said. “However, since its inception not a single unit of affordable housing has been built under this designation.”
Oystryk said MODUS’ engagement shows many residents are keen to protect North Saanich’s rural character, particularly its bounty of natural assets and agricultural lands. “We’ve also heard that new and affordable housing should be located in close proximity to important services like transit, jobs, and amenities,” he said. “These are not incompatible 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 neighbourhoods.
“Addressing challenges like the climate crisis, coastal restoration, food security, and housing affordability is not an easy task and often involves difficult conversations,” he said. “We have had excellent experiences with many residents from across (North Saanich) and we relish the opportunity to work in communities where the challenges are complex and our efforts can make a significant impact. We don’t shy away from these difficult conversations and in fact, we invite them.”
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