Sidney Gateway commercial project in a race to finish first

Rezoning application made Wednesday; Urbanics' economic impact report being reviewed by Sidney.

An independent study of the impact on downtown Sidney from a proposed 100,000 square foot commercial site did not change the developer’s plans.

And now there could be a footrace to determine which commercial development on the Saanich Peninsula will break ground first.

On May 27 development firm Omicron submitted its application to rezone land at the corner of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue. They have proposed a large retail area known at the Sidney Gateway. Omicron was asked by the Town of Sidney to pay for an independent study, looking at the potential impact of a large, new retail space on existing businesses in the downtown core. That report was submitted to the Town at the same time.

Peter Laughlin, Omicron’s Vancouver Island spokesperson, says the study prompted no change in their proposal.

“I think the numbers (in the report conducted by Urbanics Consultants of Vancouver) are slightly different than ours,” he said, noting theirs were slightly more conservative.

The report concludes that Gateway will “not adversely affect the economic health of existing retailers in the Town of Sidney.”

Urbanics’ report states the proposed Gateway development could recapture approximately $26 million in outflow sales — or shopping dollars spent outside of the community. Additionally, Gateway could generate around $11 million in “organic growth” in retail demand.

Omicron paid for the report, stating it was done on behalf of the Town of Sidney.

Urbanics did find that food, liquor and health and personal care retailers “will experience a net transfer of retail sales” to the Gateway area — an eight per cent loss in net sales in those areas by 2020 — when Gateway could be open.

“It’s extremely balanced, Laughlin added, saying its result did not change Omicron’s plans for the 10-acre site.

Omicron is seeking to have the site rezoned from its current residential designation to commercial.

Laughlin said the plans they submitted to the Town this week remain largely unchanged from presentations earlier this year and last year. The site could host a new grocery store, medical offices, restaurants and drug store.

The Urbanics report found the project could generate 157 jobs during construction, representing an estimated $8.2 million in wages. Once built out, it would employ around 222 people, making around $6.2 million a year.

The Town of Sidney, states the report,  stands to bring in $316,000 in new taxes a year; the Capital Regional District (CRD) and School District 63 (Saanich) would see an influx of $420,000 new tax dollars.

Issues around the project’s impact on traffic and highway intersection — including a pedestrian walkway — would be dealt with later, as the plans would have to be sent to the provincial transportation and other ministries as part of the rezoning process.

The proposed Gateway has not been without controversy. Some business owners on and around Beacon Avenue, Sidney’s main commercial area, have expressed concern that the large commercial expansion could negatively impact existing stores. Council watchdog group Support Our Sidney (SOS) was formed based largely on this issue. A website called Gateway, No Way, has even surfaced, opposing the plan. As well, a resident of North Saanich, Springfield Harrison, asked for a review of the Agricultural Land Commission’s decision to allow the site to be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. A decision is pending.

Since the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) announced plans to work with Omicron on developing the site, the Town of Sidney entered into a memorandum of understanding with the VAA to explore the proposal. The Town also swapped land with the VAA — a strip of municipally-owned land next to the Gateway site, in exchange for a small chunk of land across the Pat Bay Highway, north of the Town’s municipal works yard.

The Gateway application now has the potential to spark a race to break ground on any of the three proposed commercial sites on the Peninsula — one in each of the three municipalities. The Jesken Centre in Central Saanich stalled last year and Sandown Commons in North Saanich already has the zoning on a 12-acre site at a former horse racing track.

It’s the latter project that has Laughlin saying there could be a race to see which one comes first.

“It is a footrace,” he said. “And there really can be only one.”

In its report, Urbanics mentions those neighbouring proposals, stating Sidney could lose sales and taxes if Sandown is built before Gateway.

Laughlin said he is hoping the Omicron’s application will make it to the Town council’s June 6 committee of the whole meeting.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall says there has not yet been an application made by the developer of Sandown to start building on the 12-acre commercial site.

However, the first phase of the land’s redevelopment — having an agrologist report on the condition of the soil, drainage and other ecological values — was put in motion around two weeks ago, she said.

Finall said that report will be done on the District-owned 83 acres, which has been earmarked for agricultural use, yet to be determined.

Omicron and the VAA are holding a public meeting June 2 at the Mary Winspear Centre at 6 p.m.