Environmental concerns

Saturday, January 30, 2021 5:14 PM

Gordon Head Residents’ Association 

Environmental Concerns

Dear Mayor and Council,

The Gordon Head Residents’ Association board (GHRA) would like to draw your

attention to what we believe is accelerating environmental degradation in our neighbourhood. Increasingly as of late, GHRA board members and residents alike have been expressing concerns about the environment. As residents, we walk the neighbourhoods and take notice of not only small changes, like the loss of a tree here or there or the paving over of landscape to create an extra parking space, but we also notice the cumulative changes over time. The cumulative, incremental changes we are seeing in our neighbourhood are particularly frustrating because Saanich has many tools at its disposal – and indeed current bylaws, policies and plans already in place – to curb impacts. These tools appear to lack enforcement or are being overlooked as the neighbourhood changes.

The Gordon Head neighbourhood will continue to see development pressure and accompanying increasing demand for services through 2021 and beyond. Development activity can be seen today throughout the Gordon Head area, with upgrades along the Shelbourne corridor underway and significant new development proposals on the immediate horizon. These developments usually attempt to reduce environmental impacts but invariably increase intensity of land use and thereby reduce available land for green space and increasingly tax drainage and infrastructure systems. An exemplary example of environmental best practices in private development is the Greater Victoria Housing Society project on Townley Road in Saanich, but not all private development projects pursue such a high level of tree planting or stormwater source control, nor does Saanich staff and council appear to require it from developers in our neighbourhood. In addition to this, Saanich’s changing housing policies are also resulting in impacts to the Gordon Head environment, such as intensifying use on single family lots resulting in dramatically increased impervious surface area. Our board has grouped environmental concerns we have repeatedly heard from our neighbourhood residents into two key categories:

  1. Environmental concerns related to increasing impervious surface area throughout Gordon Head; and,
  1. Environmental concerns related to loss of canopy cover.

Both of these issues receive extensive consideration in the Saanich OCP and have longstanding bylaws and policies in place to help Saanich manage them. Limiting the increase of impervious surface area in the Gordon Head area should be a key consideration for Saanich because of the efforts the community has undertaken over the years to restore Douglas Creek and reintroduce salmon. For southern Vancouver Island streams, it is well understood that anything over 10% impervious surface area in a given watershed results in negative effects to instream salmon habitat, and the Gordon Head area is now well over 30% impervious area and increasing!

We note that the Gordon Head area is seeing a rapid increase in the amount of landscape that is being paved over to accommodate vehicle parking. There are more and more examples of single-family lots where almost the entire front yard is paved over for parking. The photos above clearly illustrate notable examples from Gordon Head where this has occurred. We would also like to draw your attention to the six (6) garbage bins in the first photo, indicative of the number of individual suites within that single house, and of course also indicative of the increasing demand for parking.

The loss of tree canopy cover is another key issue that Gordon Head residents and our board are concerned about. It is true that Saanich has been working to plant trees in Gordon Head (ie: Saanich’s Partnership Tree Planting Program) and we are grateful for this. However, we do not feel the current rate of tree planting is keeping pace with removals, and we are concerned that where replacement trees are required by Saanich, they are not of a size and species to reasonably compensate for the removed tree(s). Furthermore, in some instances, we have seen obvious tree planting opportunities missed. For example, not a single tree was planted by Saanich engineering in the recently completed Larchwood and Edgelow Bike lane projects. In fact, when two of our board members were invited to city hall to review the project by Saanich engineering, our board members were told that no trees (nor rain gardens) were being considered, despite our encouragement to do so and many existing Saanich policies requiring the same. If Saanich as an organization will not lead by example, it will be very difficult to achieve compliance from property owners. In essence, our key concern is that while many trees are being removed from the Gordon Head landscape, replacement trees are often lacking, and tree planting opportunities are being missed so the pace of removals appears to be exceeding replacements.

The GHRA board strongly encourages Saanich council to take a closer look at the environmental changes underway in Gordon Head and to direct staff to review environmental policies, bylaws and plans as they relate to the Gordon Head neighbourhood. We encourage Saanich to take the necessary steps to ensure that our shared environment is protected and enhanced into the future.

Yours truly,

The GHRA Board.