Environmental Protection in Saanich: A Critical Review

On March 6, 2017, Saanich Council passed a motion to temporarily suspended the Environmental Development Permit Area Bylaw (EDPA) in response to heavy and sustained pressure from a citizen’s action group, Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA Society (SCRES). The SCRES group had initially garnered support through tactics such as direct mail campaigns, informing owners that their properties “had now been declared parks” (this was factually incorrect).

The objectives of the EDPA were to “protect areas of highest biodiversity, require mitigation during development, and require restoration to damaged or degraded ecosystems during development.” (http://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/sustainable-saanich/environmental-planning/environmental-development-permit-area.html)

The suspension of the bylaw follows a series of public engagements facilitated by Saanich over the past 2 years, originally initiated as a ‘check-in’ review of the bylaw. A recently released summary of the ‘check-in’ process (http://www.saanich.ca/assets/Community/Documents/Environment/EDPA%20Public%20Process%20Report%202016%20FINAL.pdf) found:

  • support was slightly higher than non-support, for those that participated in the check-in
  • the vast majority of landowners in the EDPA did not participate in the public review process (10% participation rate)
  • the majority of landowners in the EDPA who expressed concerns about the bylaw either had a self-assessed low level of knowledge about the bylaw or identified concerns that weren’t factually based

A formal review of the bylaw is currently underway by a third party consultant, as requested by council, and is expected to be completed by early summer. Council provided no notice that a suspension of the bylaw would be considered on March 6, and no opportunity for public input was provided.

Since June 2016, multiple properties have been removed from the provisions of the bylaw by council, to address a range of real or perceived potential impacts. The EDPA bylaw included provisions for flexibility, if recommended, by qualified environmental professionals during the development planning process. None of the properties removed had applied for development permits. In each case, Saanich staff recommendations to council were to not support removal.

The EDPA acted as an ‘umbrella’ bylaw, and when it was passed several pre-existing bylaws were adjusted as components were then included within the EDPA. With the suspension of the bylaw, there is now

  1. No protection for identified endangered (red listed) or vulnerable (blue listed) species by the BC Ministry of Environment Conservation Data Centre.
  2. No protection for non-fish bearing watercourses and wetland habitats.
  3. No protection for native ecosystems.
  4. No protection for trees in conflict with building envelopes.

The motion to suspend the bylaw did not include subdivision and rezoning applications. An environmental impact review is already part of the subdivision and rezoning process, however.