The Cadboro Bay Residents Association is threatening to separate its neighbourhood from Saanich if a controversial Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw isn’t changed by next spring.
The bylaw, introduced in 2012, affects about 2,000 residents. It kicks in with restrictions and requirements when someone tries to build on land that the bylaw deems to be a rare ecosystem or vital habitat.
In the face of opposition to the bylaw, Mayor Richard Atwell tried unsuccessfully to change it but was outvoted.
“Be advised if there are not positive changes to this bylaw by this spring 2016, a motion to leave Saanich and join another municipality will be made our next AGM,” said chairman Eric Dahli.
In a heated four-hour townhall meeting at the Garth Homer Society on Thursday, the threat was cheered by the more than 300 people who packed the meeting space and spilled into the hallways.
The majority of residents were angry and asked councillors to rip up the bylaw or remake it.
Mark Insley told a tale of a costly repair for stairs from his home to the water. He said the “super-environmentalism” nature of the bylaw will only send people underground when doing repair work or building something new.
Insley represented the Cordova Bay Association.
“If Saanich doesn’t fix this Draconian bylaw, then I am going to recommend that our association follow the lead of the gentleman representing Cadboro Bay,” Insley said in an interview.
Speaker after speaker harshly criticized the lack of science used to determine environmentally sensitive areas, inaccurate aerial and provincial maps, a lack of public consultation, a failed communications strategy, the unintended consequence of declining property values, and the unfair and arbitrary nature of the bylaw.
Gary Morrison said the bylaw has a laudable goal but is heavy-handed, ignores human impact and “represents a regulatory overreach and redundancy with existing provincial and federal regulations.”
“Use some common sense and eliminate the EDPA and invasive species bylaws and replace them with incentives and education to obtain everyone’s voluntary co-operation,” Morrison said.
A minority of residents supported the bylaw, but most of them also suggested amendments.
Bob Bridgeman said much of the opposition included “jacked-up hyperbole” and instructed council “don’t be bullied by a couple of hundred people.”
“I like the EDPA,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing. I even like the invasive species bylaw.”
By the meeting’s scheduled conclusion at 11 p.m., about 50 speakers had spoken.
The mayor addressed the crowd, saying “it’s a somewhat humiliating experience to be here tonight.” Atwell said that seeing a bylaw that adversely affects so many residents demonstrates that a “grave error” was made. “No bylaw should ever do that.” Atwell called it “a colossal failure of consultation.”
Several real estate agents spoke, saying properties affected by the EDPA will be devalued. Homeowners told stories of being unable to sell their property because of the bylaw, others expressed fear that their retirement plans of getting the best price for their homes will be affected.
Atwell said the bylaw defies common sense.
“We need to rescind it and sit down with experts and the public and craft one that makes sense,” he said. “I want to provide some relief right now for residents.”
Coun. Judy Brownoff said “there is still a lot of misunderstanding about what the EDPA is.”
Many people expressed concerns about the provincial maps used to determine which areas should be governed by the bylaw. “We have said from Day 1 we will be amending the mapping,” Brownoff said in an interview.
“I agree. I think there needs to be amendments to the bylaw,” Brownoff said. However, the data needs to be compiled and compared with other municipalities and re-evaluated through an independent lens. There could be legal implications to repealing the bylaw and those must be seriously reviewed, she said.
Coun. Vic Derman said he heard from the townhall a desire to change the bylaw but added: “I need to do my homework before I come to a decision. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.” Derman said he’s also heard from people concerned the bylaw will be weakened.