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Sooke homeowners irked by district’s draft community plan

High-tide buffer bothers waterfront owners

By Zoë Ducklow
May 5, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Sooke homeowners irked by district’s draft community plan

High-tide buffer bothers waterfront owners

By Zoë Ducklow
May 5, 2022
Photo: Sooke OCP
Photo: Sooke OCP
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Sooke homeowners irked by district’s draft community plan

High-tide buffer bothers waterfront owners

By Zoë Ducklow
May 5, 2022
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Sooke homeowners irked by district’s draft community plan

Typical local government meetings don’t have a lot of spectators. In fact, trying to elicit robust input from constituents is a persistent challenge for municipalities.

But on a recent Tuesday night in Sooke, a small crowd of locals did show up in person to a council meeting, hoping to talk about the new draft Official Community Plan (OCP)—only to be turned away by a procedural detail. (That procedural detail is that when a bylaw is in the bylaws section of the agenda, as the draft OCP was on April 11, rather than in the reports or new business section, no public participation is allowed.)

That’s not unique to Sooke, but it came as a surprise to many who attended that day—even to Dave Saunders, who served as mayor of Colwood for one term back in 2008.

"Council Chambers was absolutely packed. It was chockablock full of concerned citizens about the OCP. They wanted to talk, but because of procedure and bylaws, they weren't allowed to speak," he said.

The section that initially galvanized the group of homeowners along the Sooke Basin is 7.4 Development Permit Area 3 — Foreshore Area. The proposed bylaw would implement a non-disturbance buffer 15 metres away from the high tide mark, to protect the foreshore—the intertidal zone between low and high water lines.

An earlier version proposed a 30-metre buffer, though in response to alarm from landowners, council cut the buffer in half—but even that is still too much for some.

Like any new bylaw, it won’t kick in until someone wants to build something new that requires a permit from city hall. Then, if the structure is legal non-conforming (that is, it was legal before the bylaw came into place, but doesn’t meet the new code) they’ll need a report from a qualified professional showing that the planned development won’t damage the foreshore.

There are exceptions built into the policy for things like landscaping and docks, but new buildings, renovations, or restoration within the 15-metre foreshore buffer could require professional assessments. It’s that requirement that has some Sooke Basin neighbours fearing the increased costs of rebuilding if their home is damaged or they want to renovate.

Sooke’s Director of Planning and Development Matthew Pawlow thinks folks might be misunderstanding where the OCP will actually apply. The OCP is only triggered by development permit applications. In other words, if you’re not proposing development then you won’t be held to these guidelines, he said.

Sooke’s official community plan has been under review for almost two years now. But with a municipal election planned for October, Saunders, a Sooke resident and business owner, thinks this council should pause the OCP program and let the next council take it up in November.

After the April 11 council meeting, Saunders organized a meeting for the group to discuss the draft OCP. "That group needed to vent," he said. The major problem he’s hearing is that the development permit areas (there are 10 including the foreshore) will add cost, time, and unnecessary bureaucracy to developers wanting to work in Sooke.

But more than that, they say there hasn’t been enough consultation.

On Wednesday the group issued a press release saying, "Sooke is about to see a battle from citizens who warn that the Official Community Plan draft recently passed is not ready for legislation because of the lack of input from citizens during the pandemic." The group is planning signage to spread awareness of what the OCP is, and to try to get council to delay the process.

Four councillors attended the meeting, including Tony St-Pierre. He heard their concern that there hasn’t been enough consultation, but didn’t fully agree. The people in the room were not an accurate representation of Sooke residents, he said. He suspects few, if any, were renters, for example. They were mostly older, long-time established residents of Sooke, he said.

Because the process started just when the pandemic took over, much of the consultation was done digitally. Sooke has historically been very engaged with consultations, but that’s been in person. The transition to online forums may have left out some residents who are less comfortable with digital integration. But St-Pierre thinks they’ve also had more engagement from younger people than they’ve had in the past.

"We’ve had thousands of responses, probably from people who normally wouldn't have commented."

How much more consultation counts as enough consultation? St-Pierre said right now they’re not hearing new concerns, only what’s already been repeated.

Folks might not agree with council’s decision, he said, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t been listened to. Council will consider all these concerns when they do a line-by-line review of the proposed OCP, something he clarified has not happened yet.

Sooke is hosting an in-person open house on Saturday, May 7 at the community centre. Mayor, council, and staff will be there from noon to 4 pm to answer questions and receive feedback on the plan. Residents can also write to Sooke staff. Comments received will be included in the formal public hearing at a future council meeting when the draft OCP is back on the agenda.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Zoë Ducklow
Reporter, The Westshore

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