In our continent of big box stores and commuter suburbs Central Saanich is anomalous as a rural community that protects its farms by funneling development into existing urban areas. In doing so it has become a model for sustainable planning and has managed to avoid water scarcity, high taxes and many of the social problems that plague most cities. It is the CRD’s best source for local produce and the bucolic landscape contributes to the natural character of our collective identity.
These are treasures that we can give to our children and grandchildren, but they also make the area a gold mine for real estate speculators and as we have seen over and over again, when there is money to be made developers stop at nothing, bending rules, exploiting legal loopholes and bullying their neighbors to make millions at the expense of future generations. That’s exactly what’s happening right now in Central Saanich where a rogue municipal council is plowing past the advice of the community, the CRD board and their own planners to open the region up to urban sprawl.
In 2008 developer and farmer Ian Vantreight submitted an application to rezone rural and agricultural land to build a commuter subdivision on his property. Although Central Saanich clearly restricted urban development to three density pockets their Official Community Plan identifies an urban area as one that has municipal water and sewer services. So, by providing well water and septic tanks Vantreight suggested that his proposed 236 house settlement on 13 ha of land was “rural” in nature. The proposal was voted down by the former council.
The 2008 a new municipal council was inaugurated after a dubious election that prompted the RCMP to recommend laying 19 charges. Several of the new members had local real estate interests and were heavily funded by local developers.
Vantreight approached this council with scaled down proposals, that received negative recommendations from the CRD board, the Central Saanich planning staff and the Advisory Planning Commission. The application was criticized for the lack of amenities offered to the community, for roads that were too narrow for fire trucks, for the increase local traffic congestion it will cause and for decreasing the area’s biodiversity. Concern about the local aquifer’s ability to support the proposed population increase also weighed heavily. Despite these glaring concerns the municipality is proceeding with preliminary approval.
In a separate application Vantreight wants to have the city install an 8″ municipal water main in the same area to service his vegetable stand and ostensibly for a seasonal migrant worker housing facility. While it might seem reasonable for the municipality to help one of its farmers, an 8″ pipe will deliver enough water for a small city and Vantreight has yet to explain why he requires thousands of gallons per day.
If approved, the municipal water main could make it easier for Vantreight’s farm to qualify as an urban area, opening the door to further development. It would also be convenient to have the infrastructure for urban development in place five years from now if (hypothetically) the hill top development dried out the aquifer.
Concurrently Council decided to proceed with extending municipal water services to the entire North West Quadrant of the municipality, potentially setting up infrastructure that would support more development on the precious farm land of Central Saanich.
Councilors claim that the costly expansion of municipal services is to support local residents. What makes theses decisions suspicious is that they are being are all being advocated for by the same crowd of real estate speculators and developers who made massive campaign contributions to the councilors that are approving their plans.
The Central Saanich council is operating like a run away train with councilors who could be said to be in conflict of interest shouting and bullying each other at meetings. Several seem to have already made up their minds on the Vantreight housing development and plan ignore the recommendations from their staff, the CRD board and from the Advisory Planning Commission, but one of the leaders does seem to be still weighing the situation before she makes up her mind. Susan Mason has expressed on a number of occasions that she needs to hear from the public about how they feel on this matter. She can be sent a letter through the Dogwood Initiative website or called at the Central Saanich Municipal hall. 250 – 652 – 4444