Mayor Peter Jones defended North Saanich council’s decision to stop drafting the municipality’s new Official Community Plan and himself against public charges of political posturing by Coun. Brett Smyth.
Couns. Irene McConkey, Celia Stock and Sanjiv Shrivastava joined Jones in favour of his motion to rescind three resolutions which in their totality tasked staff with drafting a new OCP.
The approved motion also directs staff that any “further work on a draft of the Official Community Plan be stopped until (council) has undertaken further consideration and discussion of all aspects requested by the community” based on the “existing vision and objectives of the current OCP” and North Saanich’s role in the regional growth strategy with “particular emphasis” on environment and natural assets, agriculture and food security, climate change and marine and foreshore.
Smyth joined Couns. Phil DiBattista and Jack McClintock in voting against the motion.
Vancouver-based MODUS has been drafting the document on behalf of North Saanich.
Jones said MODUS’ draft rests “in part, if not mostly,” on 30 recommendations that had emerged out of the previous engagement. If North Saanich were to wait for the draft, due in two to three months, it would have wasted that time to review those recommendations.
“A number of those points are not contentious,” he said. “So what I am looking at doing — and I haven’t presented this to staff or council yet — is to go through the 30 (recommendations) and decide which ones are acceptable and not contentious. MODUS can then draft those and then leave blank so to speak those, the contentious, points, which are basically 23 to 30, which is the densification of housing in North Saanich.”
MODUS will then be able to include “what the majority of council and what I believe most of the residents have voted on” in the draft, said Jones.
Staff said during Monday’s council meeting that the 30 recommendations are not the only factors shaping MODUS’ draft, in recommending proceeding with drafting the OCP. What staff called a “hastily” prepared report pointed to several considerations including costs.
The municipality — having already spent some $400,000 on the process, according to Stock — has some $23,000 dollars for MODUS left to deliver the draft, according to the report. “Redoing work, or undertaking further work engagement at this time will require additional resources.”
By way of example, staff pointed out Phase 3 engagement cost taxpayers $140,350.
Jones said that figure is exactly that — an example — and staff have no way of knowing future expenses. He added that he believes future costs to be a low number. “MODUS will receive an additional ($23,000) to complete the draft, but that is the draft,” Jones said. “What would happen in three months when we get the draft and disagree with it? Then we have to spend additional money to make the changes. So why spend the money (on the draft) if we can give to MODUS what we believe the draft should include?”
Cost and other considerations animated the opposition. McClintock, who opposed drafting the OCP while serving on the previous council, said council should receive the draft and then revise it to its liking.
Smyth made a similar argument but was more vocal. “I’m gob-smacked that at least four people on this council dais can’t see it,” he said in reference to staff’s concern. “It is political posturing. This is all political posturing. We don’t need this. It’s not necessary for anybody here. What is necessary is a draft and then we get to make some decisions.”
Smyth said he understood the political motivation behind the move. “But I think it would show great leadership if this council said, ‘let’s just get a draft.’”
Another issue raised by DiBattista is the question of whether North Saanich runs the risk of any financial penalties by this move.
“DiBattista has not seen the contract between the district and MODUS — I have,” Jones said on Tuesday, but declined to disclose details. “But for me, after reading the contract, the district has no exposure financially other than the change order that is in place right now,” he said. “The dollars for that change order are by no means significant.”
When asked why he did not say that Monday, Jones said he wanted council members to speak their mind. “If you noticed, I chose not to respond to any of the councillors.”
Council considered Jones’ notice of motion after receiving several critical letters, with two coming from former councillors, Patricia Pearson and Heather Gartshore.
Jones said both Pearson and Gartshore have a “vested interest” in the previous process, which he and others consider “very, very flawed.” If they wanted to keep that process going, they should have run for office. “They did not and they are simply one of the public,” said Jones. “We will listen to the residents but they have the same weight as every other resident in North Saanich.”
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