In land use planning there is no such thing as a one time exception: every rezoning amendment and every extension of municipal services to a rural area sets a precedent.
The recent decisions in Central Saanich to allow the Vantreight subdivision and Senanus waterline project set particularly significant precedents, because they directly undermined the CRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). They openly and arrogantly refused to cooperate with the region’s master planning document (the RGS) and laid a dangerous example for other rural municipalities to follow.
The RGS is an agreement between each of the 13 municipalities in the CRD to make progressive land use planning decisions that will create social equality, a sustainable economy and a healthy environment for the entire region. It explicitly states support for keeping urban settlements compact, protecting rural communities and preserving green and blue spaces. It also prioritizes affordable housing and sustainable transportation initiatives.
From one election to the next we can expect rogue slates of real estate speculators to take power in a few municipalities, but the RGS should act as a moderator to prevent any councils bent on promoting urban sprawl from straying off the path envisioned by all the region’s residents.
Each municipality of the CRD is required by law to submit a written statement outlining how their Official Community Plan accomplishes the goals of the RGS. This document is called a Context Statement. It is the mechanism for the RGS to influence municipal land use decisions. Context statements are debated by the CRD board and must be passed by a 2/3 majority vote. If the vote fails, a municipality is legally obligated to amend its Official Community Plan and try again. Each major amendment to an OCP requires a municipality to resubmit their context statement for approval, but what Central Saanich has taught us is that the CRD has no jurisdiction to force a municipality to do so. The Vantreight and Senanus projects are exactly the type of OCP changes that should trigger a context statement amendment. The CRD board has communicated this about the Vantreight issue but the Central Saanich council publicly refused their directive.
This sets a dangerous example for other CRD municipalities to follow. Central Saanich Councilors aren’t just making their city unsustainable, they’re taking the whole region down with them. If they can prove they don’t have to follow the rules, why should any other rural municipality?
The CRD does have the option of pursuing this issue in court. It’s a messy and expensive solution to have the Regional District sue one of its municipalities, but they have an excellent case and no other options in front of them. To date the CRD Board has been reluctant to even discuss this course of action, but if our home is to be saved from a future of urban sprawl, we need the CRD to show decisive leadership and start enforcing their own rules.