Sidney Gateway plans revisited

Concerns over traffic, impact on Sidney business still top of mind on proposed commercial development.

VAA President Geoff Dickson outlined the airport authority’s desire to create a retail site west of the Pat Bay Highway

There’s an estimated $450 million spent by Saanich Peninsula residents each year on groceries and other goods and services, yet only $126 million of that stays in Sidney and the surrounding area.

Retaining more of those shopping dollars is what Peter Laughlin says his development company hopes to achieve by building an estimated 100,000 square foot retail area across the Pat Bay Highway from Sidney’s downtown core.

Laughlin, the Vancouver Island director of Omicron, tasked by the Victoria Airport Authority with creating the Sidney Gateway commercial area, presented statistics showing that the majority of the money people from this area spend, is in places other than Sidney. He joined VAA President Geoff Dickson at a two-hour public presentation at the Mary Winspear Centre Thursday, March 17.

“It is not about, and never will be, taking the business from downtown,” he said to a large crowd in the Charlie White Theatre.

Laughlin’s presentation offered people a look at the type of businesses that are currently eyeing the property — from grocery and drug stores to appliance retailers, restaurants and medical offices — yet much of the information was repeated from a speech Laughlin gave to members of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce back in January.

Omicron is banking on a grocery chain to move into their anchor location at Gateway — a project worth an estimated $30 million. He said there are two companies at the table. Laughlin said two months ago that Omicron tends to maintain relationships with its commercial clients, and one could look at their Eagle Creek development in View Royal for clues.

He noted that Sidney and the surrounding area is under served by grocery stores, maintaining that that will be the anchor of Gateway, should it proceed through the approval process with the Town of Sidney.

Many of the questions from the audience involved the impact of Gateway on traffic in and around Sidney. Getting people across the Pat Bay Highway was a common concern. Laughlin noted that both Omicron and the VAA had different traffic consultants look at the intersection of Beacon Avenue and the highway and they came to similar conclusions. Left turn lanes off the highway would have to be widened and lengthened to ensure free flowing traffic. No roundabouts are being proposed on the highway, Dickson noted, but one on Beacon Avenue West at Galaran Road is in the plan. Dickson noted that the Gateway site does not interfere with a proposed highway overpass plan established approximately five years ago by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

Others expressed concern about the amount of empty retail space in downtown Sidney already and the potential negative impact of Gateway. Business owner Clive Tanner noted that with many vacancies and more commercial space already under construction, Gateway is five to 10 years too soon.

“We need to mature in Sidney,” Tanner said.

Laughlin said their proposal is about trying to retain more shoppers in Sidney and, by “osmosis” the downtown core will reap the benefits of more people in town.

“Competition doesn’t mean business failure,” he said. “Doing nothing exacerbates the status quo.”

Omicron is paying for an independent study of the potential impact of Gateway on downtown Sidney businesses. Vancouver-based retail consulting firm Urbanics was hired to do the work.

However, Omicron and the Town of Sidney gave mixed messages on who has oversight on this work. Laughlin said during the meeting his company is paying for it while the Town and Urbanics worked out the terms of reference. Councillor Peter Wainwright noted, however, that the Town only signed off on Urbanics’ own plan.

Laughlin said he expected to submit that impact study with Omicron and VAA’s official application to the Town in three to four weeks. That study and the municipality’s approval process are only two potential outside hurdles to Gateway. North Saanich resident Springfield Harrison has filed an appeal of the Agricultural Land Commission’s approval of having a significant portion of the site removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

While that appeal does not halt any planning work or even the eventual development of the site, Harrison said he hopes it gives the VAA pause. Harrison said he was told by the ALC not to expect a decision on the appeal until May at the earliest.