Complaint over Saanich eco-bylaw thrown out

The Office of the Ombudsperson of B.C. has thrown out a complaint that Saanich failed to adequately notify owners of the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw it passed in 2012.

The bylaw, aimed at preserving biodiversity, has affected most of Saanich’s homeowners on waterfront property, preventing the alteration of land, subdivision and construction unless an exemption applies or a development permit is issued.

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“Our investigation determined that the District of Saanich held a public hearing before adopting the EDPA, and that it published a notice of this hearing in the Saanich News, once a week for two consecutive weeks, as required by the Local Government Act and the Community Charter,” said a notification passed on to Saanich councillors.

“The District of Saanich also held open houses, had information displays at Municipal Hall, ran newspaper ads, ran information on the EDPA in the Saanich Our Backyard newsletter, sent email notification to community associations, presented to community groups, held discussions at committee meetings and created a project website and announcement on the District’s homepage.

“In summary, it appeared that the District adequately notified and consulted with area residents before approving the EDPA. On this basis, we have found that no further investigation was necessary and closed our file.”

The district still has a long way to go as far as implementation is concerned.

Councillors voted 5-4 after a nearly six-hour public meeting that ended early March 18 to leave the properties in the EDPA until they see a report by a consultant yet to be hired.

Councillors voted unanimously to define the parameters of the consultant’s review by April 30. Mayor Richard Atwell and councillors Leif Wergeland, Susan Brice and Fred Haynes supported removing single-family homes from the EDPA pending the review. Councillors Vic Derman, Colin Plant, Dean Murdock, Judy Brownoff and Vicki Sanders voted to leave them in.

Brownoff said the ombudsman’s stance is “an important thing” to get on the record since claims have been made that Saanich did not undertake a full process. Those claims began in the wake of the 2014 municipal election, she said.

Anita Bull, founder of Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA Society, agreed that Saanich did everything legally required before adopting the EDPA, but said homeowners did not realize the bylaw applied to them.

“When Saanich published notice of the bylaw prior to its adoption, people would not have understood it would affect them, as most of these 2,200 properties are just lawn and garden under trees and do not have sensitive ecosystems on them,” she said in an email on Monday.

“If they really wanted the landowners to be aware of the bylaw and to do good things for the environment, they should have worked with the 2,200 landowners co-operatively to tell them what was on their property that needed protecting. No one has been told directly.

“This bylaw has been in place for four years now. People didn’t know about it until this past year, when they saw or heard something in the media.”

The organization’s website says: “One day you receive a letter from Saanich that says your entire backyard has been declared a park that you are responsible to take care of,” adding that the bylaw places an undue burden on homeowners.

A Saanich staff report said that of 563 applications for building permits for single-family properties last year, 94 were reviewed by environmental staff because the homes were in the EDPA. Of those, 15 required a permit for what homeowners wanted to do.

The B.C. Assessment Authority also will report on the impact of EDPA designation on property values, and staff are analyzing community feedback received from hundreds of people who attended open houses and town halls for a report back to council.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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