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Tsawout presents its commercial plans to public
After years of seeing development denied for lack of access, one former Tsawout chief is starting to see structure form from a dream.
Jesken Town Centre is in the early phases as a proposal, but further along than anything Allan Claxton has seen in two decades.
"This has been a dream of mine, this proposed development," Claxton told Central Saanich council Monday night. "It never happened the 20 years a I was chief."
The Tsawout councillor who served as chief until elections last year sees the tax revenue as creating self-sufficiency for the community.
"My people can finally have independence from federal government … so we can be able to look after ourselves and enjoy what this beautiful Peninsula has."
It's a goal echoed by his fellow councillor Toby Joseph.
"I know what an opportunity like this can do for our people … take us from a position of dependence to independence," Joseph said. "We want our people to do, not to accept anymore. This is something we can do for ourselves with our partners."
The proposed Jesken Town Centre is 650,000 square feet of new outdoor retail on 70 acres of Tsawout land near Highway 17 and Jus Kun Road with two or three large retailers, four or five mid-sized retailers and opportunities for smaller businesses and restaurants.
"We're in the very early feasibility stage, but we're of a mind that this is an opportunity that is real and we're excited about the opportunity," said Keith McRae of Property Development Group, which is working with Churchill International and Tsawout on the project. "Our hope, if everything goes right, is we would commence construction before the end of the calendar year." The anticipated opening would be the end of 2013.
"There's a lot of work for us to go from where we're at right now to constructing this site," McRae said. In the past, partners have walked away because of the lack of access, Joseph said. The group hopes they've overcome those hurdles.
"We've worked on this access along with members of the Ministry of Transportation to try to come up with the most efficient access to the site that meets with the Ministry of Transportation's longterm goal for the corridor," McRae said.
That could mean an overpass at Jus Kun Road and right-in, right-out access to the site on the east side, and to Central Saanich Road on the west.
The Central Saanich Road access point is one area council highlighted as an area of concern.
"That should be one of your No. 1 communication points … that's one of the largest concerns we can see," said Coun. Cathie Ounsted.
"That's the No. 1 reason we're here today," McRae responded.
The Monday night council meeting where the public could catch its first glimpse of the proposal saw residents fill the room and flow out into the hall, indicating residents wanted to know more.
Coun. Zeb King pondered the public process involved in the plan.
Any open houses would take place on Tsawout land and involve that community, but "with an open door to broader community" McRae said.
"We haven't really approached any tenants with timelines or commitments at this stage," McRae said. "We're of a mind that any shopping centre doesn't take its form and character unless it takes a significant component of local retailers. … We're all ears. If there's certain tenants the community would like to see here, we'll make every effort to make it a part of our development."
Mayor Alastair Bryson noted that council's goal is to ensure that an changes in Central Saanich are "consistent with the desires and needs of entire municipality."
Those concerns include both the highway access and the districts ongoing service agreements with the Tsawout.
"The community needs to be aware and be assured that Central Saanich is in the process of updating and renewing our servicing agreements with both the Tsartlip and Tsawout," Bryson said.
What's in a name?
The name Jesken comes from a SENĆOŦEN word.
"The golden eagle," explained Toby Joseph. "The eagle is well respected animal of our people. We look at it with dignity and wisdom. The eagle can also see well into the future. So I think it's fitting we're looking well into our future. It also happened to be the name of the road there."
PDG's numbers show an 18 per cent unemployment rate for the Tsawout community, and an eight per cent unemployment rate in Greater Victoria. They say the development would create 1,500 to 2,500 new jobs including 500 in construction and 1,000 to 2,000 operating jobs.