Saanich council has taken the first steps down a path that could bring an end to the hostile environment swirling around a controversial bylaw first introduced in 2012.
Council signalled earlier this month plans to temporarily suspend the application of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) to single family dwellings as part of an ongoing review of the bylaw. Perhaps fittingly, council was split 5-4 in the vote to suspend the bylaw, mirroring the rift it has created in the community it was designed to protect.
There’s no arguing the merits of the bylaw’s intentions, to protect what are recognized as Environmentally Significant Areas within the district. But the heavy-handed way in which the bylaw was introduced created confusion among many residents who were left wondering whether they were allowed to trim brush on their own properties. Saanich embarked on an education campaign, but the damage had been done and the seeds of mistrust had been sown.
Saanich council now has an opportunity to go back and reintroduce the bylaw in a less confrontational manner.
A public hearing is now in the works to consider the proposed temporary suspension of the bylaw on single family residences. That public hearing process should be used to determine the most common complaints with the bylaw, with staff directed to look for ways to alleviate them. A public education campaign could then be launched before a revised bylaw could be reintroduced.
There are few, if any, Saanich residents who would want to willingly destroy the area’s natural beauty. The new bylaw should recognize this fact, and make sure to protect homeowners’ right to reasonable enjoyment of their properties, while also safeguarding the community against potential developments that would adversely impact their neighbourhoods.
As Coun. Colin Plant noted: “I also have faith that residents will not go out and destroy their own properties; it goes against common sense.”
The district should acknowledge that common sense and bring forward a revised bylaw the entire community can get behind.