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North Saanich pushes back OCP update to early next year

Senior staff departures and the resignation of a consultant stalled the process, which was initially intended to be complete by June.
North Saanich Municipal Hall on Mills Road in North Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

North Saanich has approved a new timeline to complete its Official Community Plan update by early next year, after senior staff departures and the resignation of a consultant stalled the process.

The OCP update was initially intended to be complete by about June, but the timeline has been pushed back to next February.

Mayor Peter Jones said the delay shouldn’t add any cost to residents and he’s hearing little pushback from the community on the new timeline.

“It’s rare that when I’m out in the public that I would get a negative opinion on where we are with the OCP,” he said.

However, Coun. Jack McClintock said he has received more feedback from residents in the last week since the new timeline was established than he ever has on an issue in his three terms as a councillor.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” he said.

Residents who are reaching out to McClintock say they still don’t know what direction council is taking on the OCP and they wonder what the district has to show for the money and time spent on the process, he said.

The OCP dominated the October 2022 election, with residents open to development to increase affordable-housing options pitted against those who oppose change and want to keep the district’s rural character.

The current council paused the OCP process shortly after the election following a motion from Jones to temporarily stop the work to give the new council time to explore residents’ concerns.

Jones said Tuesday the new council didn’t have the support of staff at the time, because the previous director of planning and chief administrative officer wanted to continue with the work of a consultant that had been contracted to provide a draft OCP.

The previous council brought in Vancouver-based Modus Planning, Design and Engagement as a consultant on the OCP revision, but the company requested termination of its contract with the district in February 2023 over concerns about the new mayor and council’s approach to gathering public feedback. The district had paid about $400,000 to Modus for its work.

The remaining $49,100 on the Modus contract will go toward completing the OCP review, Jones said.

After the termination of Modus’s contract, staff took on the OCP review process, putting a strain on staff’s time, Jones said.

A staff report identified staff resources and new provincial housing regulations as factors in the OCP delay.

The district needed to hire a senior planner to fill a vacant position, but the hiring process took five months and was more challenging than expected, Felice Mazzoni, director of planning, told councillors in a meeting last week.

A senior planner was hired in October 2023 and represents about half the staff capacity required to work on the OCP review, Mazzoni said.

In November, the province introduced legislation to address housing challenges. The district was unsure how legislation would affect the OCP process and awaited more details, Mazzoni said.

Public consultation on the OCP review is expected to take place from March to July, with the goal of adopting a new OCP by February 2025.