Sidney Gateway land challenge persists

Ombudsperson’s office asked to get involved in ALC decision to exclude agricultural land for commercial development.

Sidney is looking into a trolley service

Springfield Harrison is turning to the B.C. Ombudsperson’s office in an attempt to challenge the decision to free up agricultural land for the controversial Gateway shopping centre proposed in Sidney.

The North Saanich resident continues to question the Agricultural Land Commission’s reasons to exclude 10 acres of land at the east end of the Victoria International Airport, from the Agricultural Land Reserve. Harrison had asked the ALC to revisit its decision, stating the reasons they gave appeared to defy logic.

Harrison contends that the ALC, created to protect agricultural land, excluded the property based on the proximity of industrial and aviation activities — this despite years of the land producing hay and being classed by the ALC itself as high-quality land.

“How do they go from A to B to C to D, and then suddenly jump to M?” Harrison asked.

He said he went to the Ombudsperson’s office to force the ALC into releasing its decision into his appeal. Now, he hopes another request to the office will lead to a review of the ALC’s decision.

Harrison’s pressure on the subject comes as the Town of Sidney is set to hear from development company Omicron on Monday, August 22. Omicron is expected to address traffic issues surrounding the Gateway commercial project, after meeting with the provincial ministry of transportation.

That is one of two upcoming meetings in Sidney on the Gateway project.

The other is scheduled for September 12 at the SHOAL Centre. It’s a public hearing on the Victoria Airport Authority’s (VAA) request to have the 10 acres rezoned from residential to commercial land.

The 10 acres are federal property, leased to the VAA for operation of the airport. They engaged the services of Omicron to develop commercial plans for the site and from that came Gateway — featuring 100,000 square feet of commercial space with plans for a grocery store, restaurants, medical offices, a daycare and more.

Critics of the plan say it duplicates a lot of what downtown Sidney’s existing business community already has and could harm the bottom line of existing businesses.

Paired with plans for another shopping centre in North Saanich at the former Sandown race track, the potential proliferation of retail on the Peninsula has made for lively and heated debate in both communities.

Harrison said he wasn’t given a timeline by the Ombudsperson’s office — but asked them to take into consideration that the issue is happening fast.

The Town of Sidney, in the meantime, is already discussing ways of mitigating the potential impact of increased traffic. At their August 8 meeting, Councillor Peter Wainwright suggested the Town look into creating a trolley service connecting West Sidney with the downtown core — akin to the trolley operating in Langford.

Wainwright said if Gateway goes ahead, Sidney should consider the idea. Other councillors immediately asked to have the term ‘Gateway’ removed from the idea.

“Shouldn’t we do it, regardless of Gateway?” asked Coun. Erin Bremner-Mitchell.

Wainwright said yes but noted the focus of the idea was on limiting the impact of Gateway — should it go ahead.

Coun. Barbara Fallot said she supported the idea, but wanted any association with Gateway off the table.

“Including Gateway pre-supposes something,” she said.

Her motion to try to drop the ‘entanglement’ with Gateway did not get anywhere.

Mayor Steve Price said the trolley idea was “wonderful.” He said it might be hard to justify the need now, but any increase in municipal revenue to offset its costs would make it a plus. Sidney would see an increase in taxes from a new commercial development, such as Gateway.

Wainwright added during the meeting that those taxes from Gateway “could pay for this.” He estimated it might cost the Town around $120,000 to get the trolley up and running in the first year. An actual budget, however, has not yet been determined.

Council argued the trolley idea would not be considered until next year. They voted to have staff look into the trolley possibility.