Proposed Sidney Gateway land is cleared by ALC

Victoria Airport’s commercial land plan moving to the next steps.

Preliminary plans for the VAA’s Sidney Gateway commercial development. More detailed documents will come to the Town of Sidney

Plans for a new commercial site in Sidney are a step closer to taking off this week, after the province’s Agricultural Land Commission agreed to free up a portion of land for development.

On Monday, the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) received notification from the ALC that a strip of land at Beacon Avenue West and the Pat Bay Highway would be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. The land was technically under federal responsibility and did not fall under ALC jurisdiction. However, the VAA committed to following a process similar to other development applications.

James Bogusz, VAA’s Vice-President of Operations and Development, says the ALC stated the land’s proximity to nearby residential, industrial and commercial properties — as well as the runway to the west of the site — were drivers behind their decision.

The site is being considered for a commercial development, tentatively called the Sidney Gateway.

The VAA has hired development company Omicron to plan the site and seek out tenants. Those could include a grocery store, medical offices and a financial institution. While Omicron has been seeking out potential tenants, none can be announced until they are formally signed once the project gets through a variety of local and provincial regulatory steps. Those include municipal zoning and official community plan amendments and approval of the roadway plans by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

The VAA has already held consultations with the ministry over planned road realignments and has made adjustments to the site transportation plan.

Bogusz said the ALC decision this week means Omicron and the VAA can submit their updated proposal formally to the Town of Sidney to start the regulatory processes and what he anticipates will be a great deal of public consultation.

“In the next few days, up to a week, we will meet with Town staff to map out a schedule,” he said. “In the near term, it will take a couple months before we can book places to hold open houses.”

The VAA held an open house on the project in 2014, shortly after they and the Town announced that they had entered into a memorandum of understanding that would see both parties agree to talk about the development plan. Sidney itself owned a .16 acre strip of land, a road right-of-way, at the site. This month, the municipality agreed to swap that land for a VAA-owned parcel north of the Town’s public works yard.

The site under consideration is currently zoned residential, yet the Town’s own official community plan outlines commercial potential for the site. The VAA will take their plans to the municipality for a zoning change and OCP amendments.

Bogusz said dates for open houses have not yet been determined. He did say, however, that he expects the process to move “appropriately” at the municipal level.

Preliminary plans for the site show a re-alignment of Stirling Way, making it connect to Beacon Avenue West via a roundabout at Galaran Road. That would mean a portion of VAA’s Flight Path multi-use trail would also have to be moved. Another two access points to the site are included along Beacon Avenue.

Design plans, which VAA and Omicron say will change as they continue to seek out public input, include green space, a pedestrian plaza and rain water detention pond.

Bogusz has said the VAA wants to get the plans in front of the community for their response and buy-in.

The idea of a new retail centre so close to downtown Sidney created a stir in late 2014 and well into 2015 — adding to local discussions about other proposed commercial sites at Jesken (Central Saanich) and Sandown (North Saanich). Community and business groups — such as the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Sidney Business Improvement Area Society — have held meetings and polled their members about the Gateway project.

Consensus, as reported from those groups last year, has been that many people are cautiously optimistic about the success of the plan, and that it might have a positive effect on downtown business fortunes.