Economy, doctors hot topics at Mayors’ Breakfast

Saanich Peninsula mayors address the business community at annual Chamber breakfast meeting

Guest speaker Tim Wake asked local community and business leaders pointed questions about their commitment to affordable housing on the Saanich Peninsula

With the impending construction of Jesken Town Centre on the Tsawout First Nation, Sidney mayor Larry Cross voiced serious concern over the impacts of the development on the town during this year’s Mayors’ Breakfast held Feb. 20.

The breakfast, hosted annually by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, sees the mayors of all three Saanich Peninsula municipalities gather together to update community members on each district’s goings on.

Cross outlined threats to Sidney’s current retail environment during his speech and made it clear the town is on board to help improve retail in the town before Jesken opens.

“We need to face this head on,” Cross said.

Sidney’s mayor added that he initially didn’t realize the possible impacts of a retail centre like Jesken would have on the town until Richard Talbot, a retail  development specialist from the area, brought it to his attention.

Cross also added the town is supportive of Talbot’s suggestions and plans to hear from him and Cliff McNeil-Smith (Tanner’s Books and Sidney Business Improvement Area) during committee meetings and will refer information to working groups that will be established.

“We need to face this head on,” said Cross.

Central Saanich Mayor Alastair Bryson focused on the positive of the development of the retail centre, saying he felt it was positive that the money was staying on the Saanich Peninsula.

“These are dollars that will now stay on the Peninsula instead of leaving,” he said.

“That money is already going to big box stores, we might as well keep it here.”

Bryson also focused on the municipality’s new fire hall and upgraded fire hall rating as well as the planning of the municipality’s OCP. Bryson gave kudos to Sidney’s planning and development which has worked on instituting bylaws, infill polices and urban containment boundaries to help guide development in the town.

“I would like Central Saanich to take our planning to the next level like that,” he said.

Mayor Alice Finall from North Saanich focused on the issue of retaining and recruiting doctors on the Saanich Peninsula as well as the development of the lands at Sandown.

“This has been some of the most innovative planning that’s gone on since I’ve been in office as mayor,” she said of the project.

A recurring theme at this year’s breakfast, not surprisingly, was the issue of workforce or affordable housing on the Peninsula. Invited speaker, Tim Wake who worked on a similar workforce housing demand issue in Whistler and specializes in non-market housing projects, made a presentation concerning the affordability of real estate in the area.

“The people in your local workforce are parachuting in and out and shopping, recreating and volunteering in other communities,” Wake said, noting that 74 per cent of workers in the industrial area of West Sidney that were surveyed by the Sidney North Saanich Industrial Group live outside the Saanich Peninsula.

“Where do you want those people to live and spend those dollars? Wouldn’t you want them to live here?”

Wake also noted, that according to calculations based on national housing multipliers, that a home within range for most people who work on the Saanich Peninsula would be around $225,000.

“Real estate here is no where near that,” Wake said.

Wake also said strides were made by municipalities like North Saanich in the quest for workforce housing but more needs to be done if there is desire to have those workers move into the community.

“I see a lot of planning has gone on here but not much action,” he said.