North Quadra project raises concerns over loss of Garry oaks

Neighbours of a proposed nine-home development off the north end of Quadra Street are calling on Saanich to rescind subdivision approval to save an established Garry oak ecosystem on the largely undeveloped property.

Municipal staff estimate at least 36 trees and likely more will be removed to make way for the development. “The community came together because Garry oak ecosystems are rare — there’s not a lot of them left that are intact,” area resident Kate Hamm said Friday.

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The lots at 972 Milner Ave. and 978-B Milner Ave. are for sale, with a total asking price of $3.998 million on a combined land area of slightly more than two acres.

Conditional approval has been granted by municipal staff to allow five strata lots and four fee-simple lots on the two adjacent properties. Because there were no variance requests for the lots, which are zoned for residential use, the plan does not have to go to council.

One of the conditions is a covenant to set aside three areas in their natural state, although the exact size of the natural areas to be protected will be determined in conjunction with ­environmental services staff and the project surveyor as the application moves forward, said district spokesman Adam Flint.

The approval decision was made by Saanich’s approving officer, who is guided by the applicable provincial and municipal legislation, said Flint. “This application was reviewed extensively by all staff before any decisions were made.”

A minimum of 36 trees will be replaced, Flint said, adding that additional replacements will be required at the building-permit stage.

Opponents say the conditional approval granted by the district does not address concerns raised by its own parks and environment staff.

They maintain that it ­contradicts Saanich’s guidance documents for integrating new projects into a neighbourhood and protecting the environment.

Neighbours Mark Zuehlke and Frances Backhouse said in a letter to Saanich that the fact the properties are listed for sale makes “this matter of even more pressing concern and the need for the conditional approval to be rescinded even more urgent.”

Based on a staff letter, they fear more than 60 trees could be lost due to installation of services, blasting and the area needed for building sites.

Saanich’s official community plan highlights the importance of contiguous tree cover and tree preservation when it comes to integrating new developments into an established neighbourhood, yet it’s clear contiguous tree cover will be lost and the housing density will not fit into the area, Zuehlke and ­Backhouse said.

Haji Charania, president of the North Quadra Community Association, suggested a proposal with fewer houses would be more suitable for the site.

People are more aware of the impact of the loss of Garry oak trees these days. “You can never get it back.”

Charania is also concerned about increased traffic in the neighbourhood, with two nearby schools, Lake Hill Elementary and St. Margaret’s School.

Neil Bosdet, real estate agent for the property, said owner Kasapi Construction has no comment.

People in the area might see the land as a park, but it’s private property, Bosdet said. “It’s residentially zoned property and we are doing everything as per Saanich’s rules.”

The project dates back a few years. A 2018 subdivision application for the Milner lots, along with two other nearby lots, was not approved by the district. A subsequent application covering only the two current lots was made last year.

Neighbours became worried in May 2019 when the understory vegetation on the land was cleared out.

“The significance of individual decisions on our broader ecosystem matters because — and we now know it is not trite to say — our very survival depends on it,” Hamm said.

“We care about this ­application because it will impact a rare and valuable Garry oak ecosystem in our neighbourhood that supports life and beauty.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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