If you're inclined to think municipal politicians have it easy, spare a thought for the mayor and council of Central Saanich. Since they were elected last fall, one controversy after another has dropped in their lap.
First, it was the prospect of a stinging revenue loss. In March, the Tsawout First Nation announced a plan to build a shopping mall on reserve land near the intersection of Mount Newton Cross Road and the Pat Bay Highway.
If the development proceeds, Central Saanich won't benefit. Businesses on reserve land pay no municipal levies.
Worse still, the project may kill efforts to rebuild the struggling business centre in nearby Keating. Council responded to the Tsawout plan with an offer to rezone Keating's commercial district so big-box stores could locate there as well.
But it may be a case of too little, too late. And that will mean thousands in lost revenues.
Next, councillors were confronted with a proposal that could result in parts of Island View Beach Park being flooded by seawater.
Last month, staff from the Capital Regional District briefed council on a strategy to change erosion patterns along the Island View shore.
The scheme involves removing log barriers that protect the park and adjacent farmland. If that happens, high tides in winter could flood the area and wash away benches and campsites.
The park is much used by local residents, and council members made clear their opposition. But in reality, there is little they can do. Although located in Central Saanich, the park is administered by the CRD and the final decision rests there.
Then last week, an even more difficult predicament reared its head. A non-profit agency, the Creating Homefulness Society, began construction of a camp for indigent people on the outskirts of Brentwood Bay.
The society owns Woodwynn Farm, a 78-hectare plot at the corner of West Saanich and Mount Newton Cross roads. Organizers plan to house about 100 homeless people and 24 staff on the site. In the short term, residents will live in tents and trailers.
The problem is, current zoning allows homes for only four people, and the Agricultural Land Commission has already denied an application to construct additional accommodation. Neighbouring residents are unhappy, and complaints have been filed with the responsible local authority – Central Saanich council.
At first glance, the project has a number of attractions. Many of Victoria's homeless people have chronic drugaddiction problems. Woodwynn Farm offers a complete break from life on the streets. Organizers believe there are therapeutic benefits in such a dramatic change.
They hope to get residents involved in the day-to-day routines of farm work, and believe that communal living and eating arrangements will create an environment of mutual support.
But there is also cause for concern. Bringing that many people together over a prolonged period, with only the most basic facilities (porta-potties and water tanks), is an invitation to ill health.
Policing and security will be an issue. Timely interventions in medical emergencies may be difficult to arrange.
And while zoning regulations can seem trivial when dealing with a crisis like homelessness, they do represent values that matter. People choose where to live based on the assurances that zoning provides. Our communities are built on this foundation.
The organizers at Woodwynn have decided to challenge all that, and are deliberately skirting, if not breaking, the law.
What to do about this is now for councillors to decide. They will review options at a meeting later this month.
But as they sit down to wrestle with what is, in effect, a no-win situation, they can perhaps be comforted by this thought: After what they've already been through, things surely can't get any more complicated.
Times Colonist Editorial July 12, 2012 Article Source