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Group calls on Sooke to slow pace of development

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Sooke Mayor Maja Tait says housing stock is low, demand is high and the district needs new housing supply and commercial development to provide local opportunities and increase its tax base. TIMES COLONIST

Saying the West Coast way of life and greenhouse-gas reduction targets are both under threat, a neighbourhood group in Sooke is calling on the district to halt future development until it has created a new Official Community Plan.

Transition Sooke, a volunteer group that says it’s focused on creating a sustainable community, told Sooke council this week it needs to be directing growth, not reacting to it.

“We shouldn’t be planning for the consequences of growth — we should decide how much we can grow,” said Transition Sooke director Alan Dolan, who argued Sooke cannot meet its greenhouse gas emission-reduction targets if it keeps growing at the current rate. “And we can’t maintain the small-town, close-to-the-ocean, forests and fields [ambience] that everyone says they treasure.”

The group is pushing for Sooke to put a hold on all new development until the plan is complete and a climate action plan is in place that specifies how Sooke will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.

Dolan said the group is asking that only new development be paused and that work on existing projects would continue.

“The vision in the new OCP states that ‘Sooke is a small town with a big heart. It is a vibrant net zero emissions community, cradled in the stunning beauty and vitality of the ocean and forest,’ ” he said. “It is impossible to attain this vision and keep growing at the present rate.”

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said the group raises valid concerns about the planet, the environment and how the district is growing.

“However, we are a young, growing municipality,” she said, noting young families want to put down roots in the community.

Tait said housing stock is low, demand is high and the district needs new housing supply and commercial development to provide local opportunities and increase its tax base.

The mayor said because the district is growing, there is pressure on its infrastructure and amenities. “Much of our infrastructure and the capital needs and amenities are based on development that we know is in the pipeline,” she said.

She said shutting down development would affect innumerable workers and their families, as well as the Sooke businesses and services that supply everything from coffee and food to materials and accounting services for developers.

Tait said the official community plan is still being drafted and now is the time to have conversations about what is and isn’t working for the district.

aduffy@timescolonist.com