Sidney asking North Saanich to review impact of retail development

Sidney sends Gateway rezoning request to a public hearing, likely for September.

The proposed Sidney Gateway retail project will go to a public hearing

Opponents of the proposed Sidney Gateway commercial site continue to dog town council over what they claim are inconsistencies in a report supporting it and a perceived ‘steam rolling’ over those who criticize it.

The Town is fighting back, calling out opponents as perpetual naysayers who are playing semantics and twisting the meaning of various studies that show Gateway will be a boon overall.

In the middle of the debate, Sidney Mayor Steve Price is calling on both the District of North Saanich and MLA Gary Holman to have another impact study done — this time on how the proposed Sandown Commons retail site will hit Sidney’s downtown business district.

On Monday, Sidney council voted to ask North Saanich to consider paying for a study on how the Sandown commercial area would impact them and traffic on the Pat Bay Highway. The Town requested Gateway developer Omicron to pay for studies done on that project and those have proved controversial.

Price said he initially wrote to Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman on June 29 to seek his support in similar work done by North Saanich. Price said Holman had made a request to Sidney to do so over Gateway — and it was only fair to ask their neighbour.

“Unfortunately, the proposed (Sandown) project has not been transparent and various versions of what may or may not be included in the development abound,” Price wrote in the letter.

“However, what seems to be confirmed is that a significant retail development has been proposed for the land. Beyond that, details have been sketchy and allusive [sic].”

Price said Sidney asked Omicron to pay for a Gateway impact and traffic reports, based on feedback from the community and a Feb. 5 request by Holman via email. Price added Holman has declined to make a similar request of North Saanich.

Holman told the PNR he made his request of Sidney after hearing from businesses and residents concerned about Gateway’s impact on the existing retail area. He said the Town’s response places the issue in front of North Saanich and becomes a matter between the two municipalities. Holman said he offered to sit with both parties, but does not feel it’s his place to make the request on behalf of the Town.

“The best way for them to do that is to ask North Saanich directly. I didn’t make it an outright refusal. I’m trying to respond, but in a more supportive way.”

He added he’s heard concerns about Sandown Commons as well and has taken no position on either project.

Sidney Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said the Town did receive a referral on the proposed Sandown development from North Saanich in around 2011. That was the time the District was dealing with the owners of the property, to see 12 acres rezoned for commercial use and the remainder turned into agricultural land.

“There were some concerns at that time,” Humble said. “There were issue of its impact on Sidney’s infrastructure, site drainage and incompatible land uses.”

Asked if Sidney at that time expressed concern over Sandown’s impact on downtown business, Humble said  nothing was mentioned.

“It was a different time and a different context,” he said.

Price said council is concerned about Sandown — both how it could threaten downtown Sidney and the Gateway plan. He said Sandown, if it’s built first, could result in the loss of some $4 million in amenities coming to the Town if Gateway does not proceed. Those include a pedestrian overpass and traffic improvements.

Asked if his position on those amenities indicated his mind was made up on supporting Gateway, Price said no, adding it will be up to council as a whole to hear from the community and make the decision on Omicron’s rezoning request.

On Monday night, council voted to move the Gateway proposal forward to a public hearing. Humble said that hearing is expected to take place in September, as the Town is still waiting to hear back from Omicron on conditions set by the municipality.

The decision was met with disdain by critics of Gateway.

Springfield Harrison, a North Saanich resident who is challenging the legitimacy of the land’s removal from the Agricultural Land Reserve, said Price’s letter included language that is misleading and took the Town’s impact study (the Urbanics report) out of context. Don Enright, another North Saanich resident who runs a website called “Gateway No Way,” expressed similar concerns.

Price fired back that the pair were playing with semantics and the Urbanics report, on the whole, was on the impact of Gateway on the downtown core.

In his letter to Holman, Price quoted from the Urbanics report, referring to “the subject site” as downtown Sidney. Enright and Harrison say that phrase, in fact, was used by Urbanics on two occasions in the report, referring specifically to the Gateway site itself and how Sandown threatens it.

An email to Urbanics seeking clarification of that phrase was not responded to by press time.

Price said he did not intend to misrepresent the report, adding his letter’s intent was clear — as is the Urbanics report’s focus on the threats to Sidney.

“It’s unfortunate that some individuals, who are openly opposed to the Gateway project, are choosing to focus on semantics rather than the real issue here,” Price wrote to the PNR, “which is the fact that our MLA had declined to do for Sandown that which he requested for Gateway.”