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Comment: CRD will need North Saanich's food production

ALICE FINALL A commentary by a former mayor (2008-2018) of North Saanich, a charter member of SaveNorthSaanich.
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Former North Saanich mayor Alice Finall. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

ALICE FINALL

A commentary by a former mayor (2008-2018) of North Saanich, a charter member of SaveNorthSaanich.

Contrary to allegations ­published here on Wednesday, the SaveNorthSaanich website is carefully monitored and ­scrupulously factual in the ­information we provide to the residents of North Saanich.

Today, those residents are engaged in a review of their district’s Official Community Plan, a review that began with a survey to seek residents’ priorities.

The three top priorities identified were environment and natural spaces, agriculture and food security, and climate change.

Contrary to this direction, the urban-oriented consultants hired by North Saanich have concentrated almost exclusively on increasing urban growth.

Not only does this emphasis ignore significant community opposition, it is inconsistent with the role of North Saanich in the Capital Regional District’s regional growth strategy.

The strategy was adopted by the CRD board in March 2018 after a decade of extensive regional public consultation and review.

A high priority in the ­strategy is strengthening protection of local food production and enhancement of food security.

The document includes a food and agriculture strategy and this objective: “Foster a resilient food system.”

Targets by 2038 are:

1. Increase the amount of land in crop production for food by 5,000 hectares to enhance local food security.

2. Establish municipal targets to increase the amount of land in crop production for food, and to encourage agricultural land to be identified by municipalities in regional context statements.

Only four regional municipalities have the capacity to address this important need: North ­Saanich, Central Saanich, Metchosin and Saanich.

North Saanich has been a regional leader in local food growing, adopting in 2010 an agricultural area plan, the only municipality in the CRD to do so, going on to adopt a whole community agriculture strategy.

Yet, at the end of December 2020, the North Saanich Official Community Plan review project team authored discussion papers presented to council that purport to address “emerging themes.”

Nowhere is there a ­reference to protection of rural ­communities.

And that is despite the fact that among the foremost objectives of the regional growth strategy, aiming to manage and balance growth, are “keep urban settlement compact” and ­“protect the integrity of rural communities.”

North Saanich is a rural/rural residential community completely outside the urban containment boundary of the regional strategy.

The strategy states: “Urban Containment directs growth into complete communities to reduce development pressures in the Saanich Peninsula, rural Westshore, Sooke and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.”

The strategy specifically directs development of complete communities “to be within the Urban Containment Policy Area.”

North Saanich has never been meant to be a “complete community.” Its extensive contributions to the CRD are made in other ways.

Nevertheless, previous North Saanich councils have also made significant and consistent efforts toward housing, recognizing the need to balance these with ­protection of the rural character.

There have been extensive efforts in the past decade to increase housing options. Earlier councils have approved literally thousands of possible secondary suites and guest cottages.

The cornerstone vision of our current official plan — to “retain the present rural, agricultural and marine character of the community” — has consistent broad support from our residents.

Our future Official Community Plan must focus on the need to avoid urban sprawl and agricultural land use conflicts, enhance food security and expand food system economic opportunities.

Council needs to address unpredictable climate, increased pest resistance, and declining, increasingly expensive water and energy supplies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added urgent emphasis to these needs.

North Saanich must retain a strong agricultural presence not only for our community, but for the entire CRD.