Gateway project takes off

Victoria Airport Authority, Town of Sidney partner on proposed commercial site along the Pat Bay Highway

Mayor Larry Cross is enthusiastic about a partnership with the Victoria Airport Authority to create a gateway to Sidney and the south Island.

The Town of Sidney and the Victoria Airport Authority announced on May 1 a partnership to develop 10 acres of land next to the Pat Bay Highway. The municipality and the VAA have signed a memorandum of understanding on a proposal to develop a commercial/industrial site south of Beacon Avenue West, between the highway and Galaran Road. Cross says he wants to see a portion of the land used for a tourist information centre that will help draw travelers off the highway and into his community.

“It’s to be the gateway to Sidney and the rest of the Island,” he said, noting that the proposal will go well with a planned pedestrian highway overpass, linking the west and east sides of town.

“This is our dream,” Cross said. “Sidney will be the gateway, as we have been all along with the ferries, airport and Gulf Islands.

“It means we can draw more people into our town off of the highway.”

In recent weeks, the town council has been meeting in-camera with VAA representatives. Both machinery and survey crews have been seen at work on the site. Cross said discussions about the disposition of municipal land are always held in-camera, noting that council takes the matter public when it can. He added the VAA will now conduct public information sessions on the plan with stakeholder groups. Further public consultation will occur during subsequent applications to the town for official community plans and zoning amendments.

In a media release, the Town of Sidney stated the memorandum outlines the “principles of partnership relating to the proposed development.” The Town stated a commercial/professional centre is seen by both parties “as an extension to Sidney’s Beacon Avenue commercial district, as well as a welcoming gateway into the Town’s downtown core.”

Sidney has recently been grappling with threats to its downtown area in the form of proposed commercial sites in Central and North Saanich. Cross in April struck a downtown revitalization task force to try to address issues surrounding competition for customers, among other issues.

“I can’t think of a better development partner than the VAA,” stated Cross in the release. “We truly look forward to working with them on this exciting project.”

VAA CEO Geoff Dickson added, “the establishment of this partnership … is a tremendous opportunity to develop a quality commercial development built to the highest standards.

“It also presents an opportunity for the VAA to diversify its revenue base in order to keep aviation fees low to attract air service.”

The VAA’s long-term plans for the airport property have included a potential commercial site on the property in question. Under this agreement, both the VAA and Town of Sidney will share lease revenues, to be collected by the VAA.

Cross said the Town only owns .16 of an acre of the property — a road right of way. He said the Town did not entertain selling it to the VAA, as they want to maintain some control in the project and see the gateway aspect included. As a partner, Cross said the Town would have a proportional share in lease revenues (to be collected by the VAA) once the site is occupied. Discussions are still ongoing on whether the Town would have any say in setting lease rates or other property conditions. Cross added that he’d like to see any additional revenue from the site go into shoring up the local business community.

Earlier this year, Sidney signed a memorandum of understanding with the Marker Group for a proposed commercial/residential development on Town land on the waterfront. The Town later backed out of the agreement, citing the results of initial tests that showed contamination in the soil. During public debate on that memorandum of understanding, the town council faced anger from some residents over the potential loss of waterfront land to the municipality.

Cross said the two agreements are very different, noting while there were plenty of unknowns in the waterfront proposal, the land near the airport does not have the same issues.