Standing up for farmland

Posted by on May 11, 2011

Saanich Council Demonstrates ‘Smart Growth’
A. Furtado, Saanich Voice Online

For the third time since Saanich adopted their Official Community Plan, Saanich Council rejected rezoning applications from developers that wanted to sacrifice potential farmland for short term profits. The most recent application was defeated unanimously, effectively putting an end to the developer’s plan to construct 16 homes on land currently located in the Agricultural Land Reserve. “As our population grows, there is an increased demand for development and pressure to encroach upon agricultural land,” states Saanich Councillor Dean Murdock. “Developing agricultural land to accommodate growth is killing the goose for its golden egg. It compromises our food security and makes a mockery of our land-use plans, while contributing to car-dependent sprawl.”

Councillor Murdock continues “Agricultural land is too important to carve up into parcels for urbanization…Instead of paving our farmland for housing to generate real estate income, we should be looking for more ways to support our local farmers by keeping farming profitable.” With dramatic increases in fuel and food costs, residents are realizing that having local food readily available is no longer optional, but is becoming a necessity. According to Councillor Murdock rising food costs are making it more expensive to put meals on the table “…ensuring we have quality, affordable food supports our farmers, our health and our environment too with a smaller carbon footprint.” The Capital Regional District is also in agreement, as they transition to what is called a “Regional Sustainability Strategy” to promote food security within the region. A CRD memorandum states, “There is a greater need and desire for accessing local food sources to promote well being and to connect with the land. Traditional production and agriculture systems are failing on many fronts, including loss or fragmentation of productive agricultural land.”

This measured approach from Saanich Council to protect agricultural land, comes in stark contrast to neighbouring municipality Central Saanich, where the current council’s attitude towards development is quite different. In addition to re-designating ALR land for the approx. 50-home Vantreight subdivision, Central Saanich is currently fast tracking approval for the Co-Op to build a large scale shopping center on rural land, as well as approving numerous building applications where lots are being divided into parcels as little as 30 feet in width. This may seem ironic, when considering 60 years ago Central Saanich separated from Saanich primarily to protect its land from urbanization.

In Central Saanich, the future of rural land was discussed at the March 30th 2011 Advisory Planning Commission Special Meeting, where fears of “densification” repeatedly arose throughout the evening. A number of concerned residents in attendance spoke out requesting that Council must create guidelines regarding densification that also support the Official Community Plan, before more applications for subdivisions are approved. Resident David Wilson said that Central Saanich infrastructure is over 40 years old and is “insufficient” to support the strain that council is imposing with increased densification. Wilson also noted that development in Central Saanich appears to be “unrestricted” and the community is upset with the lack of consistency and rules surrounding development applications.

Central Saanich Councillor John Garrison was asked for his view on densification. “Any time you put anything down, people regard it as densification…council has approved funding for creating guidelines for densification and to get public input starting in September.” However, according to Garrison, Council has no plans to change how they process development applications while they await these guidelines. Central Saanich Councillor Terry Siklenka, Director on the Council of Construction Associations and a former Director on the Vancouver Island Construction Association, was asked how he felt densification could help Central Saanich. No reply was received.

This Fall there will be a municipal election critical to the future of Central Saanich. The new, incoming council will be reviewing the Official Community Plan, which designates how much farmland Central Saanich will have and where that farmland will be located within the municipality. The ramifications of this review could change the landscape of Central Saanich forever. According to Councillor Murdock, “Protecting and enhancing local food production starts with saving agricultural land and maintaining our community’s urban containment boundaries…doing so will protect our quality of life, food security, our health and our climate for now and for future generations.”