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Saanich scraps housing study to focus on complying with new provincial rules

Instead of its “neighbourhood homes” study, staff will work on bringing Saanich’s zoning bylaws in line with the new provincial legislation and keeping the public informed
These homes at 3907 and 3909 Cedar Hill Rd. will be replaced by a 12-unit townhouse project, which cleared a Saanich council hurdle this week. Projects that comply with the Official Community Plan will no longer have to undergo public hearings under new provincial rules. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A two-year engagement project intended to establish guidelines for Saanich’s version of missing-middle housing will now be a six-month educational program to explain the implications of the province’s new housing rules.

The new Housing Statutes Amendment Act will allow single-family lots to be replaced by denser housing forms such as houseplexes of three to six units, depending on proximity to transit, townhomes or small apartment buildings.

Instead of the “neighbourhood homes” study, staff will work on bringing Saanich’s zoning bylaws in line with the new provincial legislation and keeping the public informed.

Saanich has until the end of June to bring its bylaws into line with the provincial changes.

“What the province ended up bringing forward effectively sets the new rules and anything that would have been created as a result of the study has already been determined,” said Mayor Dean Murdock.

Council voted this week to revise the terms of the “neighbourhood homes study,” directing staff to work on amending its zoning bylaws.

Councillors Judy Brownoff and Nathalie Chambers were the only two to vote against it.

“I do not think this is democracy. Overriding community plans, in my opinion, is not democracy or good governance,” said Chambers.

Brownoff, who was concerned about the ability of the district’s infrastructure to handle additional density and the effect on assessment values, asked district staff if municipalities could refuse to abide by the new legislation.

Staff said the municipality can’t opt out of the mandatory provisions of the legislation, although it’s not yet clear what the penalties would be for refusing.

Murdock said the province is responding to the same concerns being heard in Saanich — that people are looking for family-suitable homes in the community.

“Duplexes, triplexes, townhouses are going to be more in reach for families than a single-family home,” he said. “We should be using our limited resources to address these concerns and working with the province to create more options for folks rather than dedicating our resources to trying to fight the province, which is a losing battle.”

Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff said he likes the fact that the pace of change has been increased.

“We want to be delivering housing,” he said. “Whether we like the situation we’re in, we have a streamlined process that’s now six months as opposed to 18 months. I think that’s promising in many respects.”

Coun. Zac de Vries said the new framework provides an easier path to more diverse forms of housing that will serve a broader range of incomes.

“I don’t think it’s a silver bullet, but I think it’s an important step forward and one that we were looking at already,” he said. “Given the depth of the housing crisis in British Columbia, I think the province has very reasonably taken action to require this of of local governments.”

Coun. Karen Harper said those anxious about the blanket zoning policy should keep in mind it’s only enabling legislation.

“In other words, it is possible to do these things on a single-family lot. It doesn’t mean that overnight, Saanich is going to be filled with six [units] on lots. That doesn’t happen,” she said.

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