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  • There won't be a tree left west of the river:’ Councillor warns Sooke's OCP has holes

There won't be a tree left west of the river:’ Councillor warns Sooke's OCP has holes

Sooke’s OCP will proceed to a public hearing, despite disagreement within council and from community

The draft OCP has been controversial since it was released in April. Amendments have been made on the most contentious issues, but some Sooke residents say the process has been rushed and are asking council to delay more work on the plan until after the Oct. 15 election.

Included in the master plan for the next 10 years in Sooke is a new land use map, changing where the district wants things built, and how, with updated zoning definitions.

In a special meeting held on Sept. 8, Sooke council voted 4-3 to progress to the next step. Mayor Maja Tait and Couns. Dana Lajeneusse and Megan McGrath voted against receiving the second reading. Coun. Al Beddows, who was council’s representative on the OCP Committee, is staunchly in favour of moving forward. Couns. Tony St-Pierre, Ebony Logins, and Jeff Bateman also voted in support of moving forward with the second reading.

In her vote against the motion, Tait said meaningful consultation is still missing in the OCP, and said the public hearing format is too formal to facilitate collaborative input.

“I strongly recommend that council not pass this. Let's put the matter on hold. If I am fortunate to be re-elected, I will make a commitment that we will reopen this once the new council has good orientation,” she said.

At the special meeting on Sept. 8 council made a last-minute amendment to allow members of the public to speak. Normally public input is delayed until the public hearing, but in this case several councillors advocated for more input. However, residents weren’t notified ahead of time there would be public participation, so only a handful of people were there.

The first speaker was Dave Saunders, a local developer and excavation business owner and former Colwood mayor.

“This is the worst OCP I've ever seen in Sooke. I don't say that lightly,” he said. His main critique is around the new zoning, which he says will result in a clear-cut Sooke.

Proposed zoning map for Sooke.

Proposed zoning map for Sooke. The bright yellow is Community Residential, red is Town Centre Core, blue is Town Centre Waterfront.

Zoning proposals

The OCP document collated six key takeaways the committee says they heard from the community. The third takeaway—after protecting Sooke’s rural character and protecting the natural environment—is that there is a need for focused growth in the town centre. That message is reflected in the Town Centre zoning proposals which dramatically increase potential for density.

Floor area ratios (FAR) are a measure often used by municipalities to manage and measure density. It’s a calculation of how much square footage is allowed based on the size of the lot. The ratio is usually coupled with a maximum lot coverage amount, to ensure the building goes upwards instead of covering the entire footprint of the lot. For example, a FAR of 1 could cover the entire available land as a single storey building, but with a maximum lot coverage of 50%, a 1 FAR building would be two storeys high and leave half the land open. Sooke’s current zoning rules don’t include FAR, but the new OCP does.

Where the OCP proposes most of the growth be concentrated is in and around the centre of town, which is currently broken up into a few zones with their own rules—single family lots, mobile home parks, some multi-residential buildings, a few rural lots, and some commercial zones. The new zoning combines several of those into two zones: core and waterfront. Both are designed for multi-unit residential buildings with height limits of three to six storeys, and some commercial development.

The new town centre zones would also allow more units per lot: where now there is a limit of one principal residence and one secondary dwelling (or one duplex and one secondary dwelling), the waterfront zoning would allow up to a 5.0 FAR—which is at least five storeys with no specified open space.

‘There won't be a tree left west of the river’

It’s not just the town centre that will be up for increased density. The bright yellow-coloured zone on the map below, which covers much of the surrounding area, also allows for increased density—and adds the option of multi-residential housing. The proposed Community Residential zone will have a 1.5 FAR, maximum height of three storeys, and the option of up to 70 units per hectare.

This zone is where Coun. Lajeneusse focused his comments in the Sept. 8 meeting. He asked staff to pull up the zoning map and pointed out the size of the Community Residential zoning area. WIth some quick math he said the zone covers approximately 647 hectares west of the Sooke River, and at 70 units per hectare that translates to a minimum lot size of 457 square metres, or 12 by 12 metres. At that small size, between space for the buildings and requirements for utility hookups, set backs, and sidewalk improvements, there isn’t a lot of room left for mature trees to remain.

“There won't be a tree left west of the river,” Lajeneusse concluded.

The largest lots in that surrounding area would be allowed to have seven units, where right now only one principal residence and one secondary dwelling (or one duplex and one secondary dwelling) are allowed. A medium-sized lot would be allowed to have just over four units, and the small lot—350 metres-squared—will remain about the same. That increased density has a low to medium growth potential, according to the draft OCP. But if a developer were to buy up several adjacent lots, there is opportunity for bigger, denser buildings to go up.

Consolidating lots is what Saunders predicts. He told The Westshore in an interview after the meeting that without specifically making allowances or protections for trees, the new OCP could easily lead to that whole section of yellow zoning being clear cut like a suburb.

Meanwhile in Victoria, untold hours of debate have occurred over its “Missing Middle” housing plan, which would increase the default FAR (or FSR, floor space ratio, as they call it) to 1.1, less than what’s being proposed in much of Sooke.

The public hearing on the OCP is scheduled for Sept. 27, at 7pm. Comments will be accepted in writing until noon on Sept. 27, or in person at the meeting.