Editorial: Region finds a compromise

It’s not on the same scale as North Korea’s peace overtures to the South, but Victoria’s regional politicians have found a way to settle a dispute that threatened to rack up legal bills.

With a deadline looming on Jan. 15, the politicians reached a mediated settlement on their disagreement over the regional growth strategy. Directors of the Capital Regional District signed off on it this week, and now it goes to municipalities for their approval.

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The words “regional growth strategy” are enough to send most voters to sleep, but the strategy affects the kinds of communities we live in and the quality of life in Greater Victoria. It governs development in the region and shapes issues including transportation, land use, ecosystem protection and economics.

We live on the pointy end of an Island, with water on three sides and hills on the fourth. If we want to avoid turning the region into a forest of Hong Kong-style towers, we have to think carefully about how we use our limited space.

We also have to be able to live our lives without too many other people telling us what to do with our land and homes. And we need homes for the 95,000 more people who are expected to swell our population by 2038.

The growth strategy tries to balance all the competing interests in the south Island, not an easy thing to do with 13 municipalities and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area going off in different directions.

Under Capital Regional District rules, the growth strategy has to be approved unanimously by the members. That didn’t happen when it came up for a decision last fall.

Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich, View Royal, Highlands, Colwood and Esquimalt rejected the proposal, mainly because it allowed the extension of piped water into the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.

Why can’t the folks in the electoral area have piped water, something most of us take for granted? Because the other municipalities fear that development will follow the water pipes, and the less-settled parts of the region will be paved with subdivisions in no time.

It’s a debatable point. There is a strong argument that it’s not water pipes but sewage pipes that lead to urban sprawl.

That argument didn’t persuade the objecting municipalities, and Mike Hicks, the CRD director for the sprawling electoral area, was badly outnumbered. His constituents want water.

Hicks even appealed to Premier John Horgan, who is MLA for the area.

The issue went to mediation, which was supposed to be concluded by Nov. 30, 2017, or it would have to go to binding arbitration. When no settlement seemed likely, Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson extended the deadline to Jan. 15.

With the prospect of expensive arbitration hanging over their heads, the directors finally agreed to a compromise. It sets out a way to determine where water will be extended and it identifies the electoral-area communities where water extensions could occur.

It also covers other areas of disagreement including protection for parkland, transportation, urban settlement and climate adaptation.

There are no villains in this case. Everyone was trying to defend important values. Managing growth is one of the most difficult challenges around the world.

The decisions we make today will affect generations. We must make them with care.

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