Change happens: Sidney passes Gateway land rezoning

Majority of Monday night's public hearing speakers opposed the rezoning - and the proposed commercial development.

An overflow crowd at the SHOAL Centre watched the Gateway public hearing Monday night on a TV screen from the Center's cafeteria.

Sidney has voted to rezone land that helps clear the path for a 98,000 square-foot commercial development at the corner of Beacon Avenue and the Pat Bay Highway.

And by the time the vote finally came early Tuesday morning, the main hall at the SHOAL Centre in Sidney was empty enough to be able to hear almost all the catcalls from opponents and the replies from Mayor Steve Price.

Opponents of the proposed Sidney Gateway had filled the main hall to standing room only on Monday evening, with others seated in the centre’s cafeteria and on an outside patio. They were hoping to persuade or cajole councillors into delaying or, at best, denying Omicron Development’s plan for the 10-acre property.

In a series of 5-2 votes, councillors approved the land rezoning, establishing a new commercial zone.

Now, the project leaves the direct control of the Town of Sidney and falls to the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) to approve both development and building permits. The land itself is on federal airport property and from the outset of the process in 2014, the VAA took the proposed Gateway site through the municipal rezoning process. The VAA has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Town to continue to consult on the next stages of the development of Gateway.

Cold comfort for many leaving the SHOAL Centre after the public hearing ended well after midnight.

“You don’t give a rat’s ass!” yelled one member of the audience.

“We’re not voting for you,” said another.

Yet it was a majority of five councillors who carried the vote forward.

Only four people — including Doug Walker on behalf of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce — spoke in support of Gateway.

The majority who spoke — 40 — expressed opposition. Members of the Support Our Sidney council watchdog group handed over their petition against Gateway, numbering some 2,279 names, plus an additional 87 business owners from Beacon Avenue who were opposed.

“No one who votes for this will survive the next election,” stated Don Enright, who spoke at the start of the session, following presentations by the VAA and Omicron about the Gateway project.

Enright, who runs a website called Gateway No Way, said councillors had not offered any credible “refutation” of people’s fears.

Fighting consistent applause, Price was mostly successful in maintaining a sense of decorum during the evening. Until he tried to cut off speaker Noel Currie, who refused to give up the podium after being told he was taking too long. Price attempted to recess the council in response, but was told speakers do not have a time limit and was forced to relent and continue the meeting.

Council faced a long line of people concerned over traffic impacts, the loss of Sidney’s unique character, business implications and more. Former mayor Norma Sealy said she was opposed to Gateway, calling it “not the best thing that could happen to Sidney.”

Owner of Tanner’s Books Cliff McNeil-Smith added his opposition, noting downtown Sidney already has enough vacant spaces, suggesting Gateway would cause more.

Overall, those against Gateway said they had no confidence in the Urbanics report on the impact of Gateway on Sidney and felt the project would seriously harm the community.

Support came form the Chamber of Commerce. Walker said there’s been a need on the west side of Sidney for years for better services for the residents and industrial workers there. So, despite slightly less than half of their members polled against it, he said, the Chamber was supporting Gateway.

Michael Hall, speaking for the West Sidney Industrial Group, said Gateway would help service the approximate 2,500 people who work there.

While there were plenty of irate speakers, some — even those opposed — credited council for wanting to do what’s best for Sidney and said they didn’t envy them their job.

Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey said Sidney’s been changing for decades and councils in the past have faced similar battles.

“There’s no doubt there will be consequences,” he said, “but municipal government is not in a position to stop competition.”

He supported the rezoning for Gateway in the end to head off a neighbouring commercial development in North Saanich.

Coun. Peter Wainwright went through a list of issues that had come up that night, talking about misinformation on all sides and his effort to try to balance his decision. He came out in support of the rezoning. As did Councilors Cam McLennan and Tim Chad.

“Change happens,” McLennan said, adding he doesn’t think the retail space at Gateway will take anything away from downtown Sidney.

Price chipped away at the misinformation presented at the public hearing and stated what Sidney was getting in return — a pedestrian overpass and traffic improvements on Beacon, Galaran Road and at the highway intersection — were good things. He added Gateway was not going to take anything away from Sidney.

“We can have Gateway at one end and the waterfront at the other,” Price said. “Gateway is never going to (beat) the waterfront.”

He added Gateway could even become an incentive for existing downtown property owners to fix up their buildings, some with “rat infestation issues.”

Only Councillors Barbara Fallot and Erin Bremner-Mitchell voted against the land rezoning and urged their counterparts to take some more time to come up with something better.

A clearly nervous Bremner-Mitchell asked council to take a sober second thought. Fallot said she still wasn’t convinced Gateway is going to be a good thing for the town.

“I’m not seeing the best deal for Sidney coming from Omicron,” she said. “This is the first offer we’ve hand to develop something on this corner. And I’m not sure it’s the best we can do.”