State of the Peninsula outlined by three mayors

Chamber event sparks little debate on progress in the three local municipalities.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall outlined the year to come in her community.

A lack of questions from an audience of Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce members might have been the biggest indicator of the state of affairs in Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich — either the crowd was happy with the status quo, or they’d heard it all before.

A breakfast with the mayors from the three Saanich Peninsula communities has become an annual outline of local issues, a ‘state of the Peninsula’ address by its three main leaders. Judging by the questions asked of the mayors — one asking about grant availability for Central Saanich projects and another on how Greater Victoria seems to be missing out on federal grants specifically for Canadian cities due to its size — few seemed concerned with the state of affairs on the Peninsula.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall led the discussion, praising the recent appeals court decision to overturn a low property value assessment of the NAV Canada control tower at the Victoria airport.

“This … has made us rather happy at the District of North Saanich,” she said.

That decision has the potential to return lost property taxes to the District’s coffers.

Finall continued by outlining various projects underway, from their municipal hall replacement work to its plans to close up a time capsule — to be re-opened in 2055.

Coming up this year, she said, the District will survey the community on its growth plan. Currently, she said subdivision applications not already in stream have been put on hold. North Saanich council has been reviewing the past council’s decisions to open up segments of the municipality as potential development areas.

Finall was also the only mayor to address amalgamation, a topic raised prior to the 2014 civic election. She said the three Saanich Peninsula communities have asked the province for funds to study the issue as it relates to this area.

“There has been no funding granted to do such a study, after two requests,” she said, noting the area already shares plenty of services among themselves and other regional partners.

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor began his talk by discussing the Keating Business Park, a key project for the District. It’s also a topic, Windsor said, that’s been discussed among residents, businesses and the councils for many years.

With limited action since Keating’s initial development, he said it’s an area designated within the current regional growth strategy as a significant commercial industrial area.

“We believe there are a number of opportunities for further enhancement and realizing the future benefit in terms of land use and also benefit for employment and district revenues on Keating,” he said.

Windsor said it will take some time to complete with the initial stages seeing to look to members of the community, both businesses and residents for their vision of the Keating Corridor.

The first meetings will take place on March 9 and 16 at the Central Saanich Fire Hall, and all interested parties are encouraged to attend.

Windsor also discussed briefly the District’s budget.

“I am pleased to say that we are tracking well,” adding, “We’re fortunate this year that the revenue that we’re seeing from new construction and other factors is a big boom to our municipal budget and that hopefully will lead to us being able to provide a sustainable future for Central Saanich in terms of its infrastructure…”

Windsor said they have looked to their fire hall specifically. Council is now incorporating a plan in their budget to accelerate repayment of the debt for the new facility.

Windsor said they are seeing a very different economic environment despite the economic challenges in the world, which he said are not as they were in 2008.

“We are seeing in Central Saanich, within our own containment boundary, new construction begin,” he said. “I think it’s a very positive sign for the region as a whole and within Central Saanich that the construction community is looking up …”

Development in Sidney has also gone up. Mayor Steve Price said there was $11.5 million in activity in 2014 — which shot up to $25 million last year.

“And we look like we are on track to beat that this year,” he said.

There were 93 new residential units built in Sidney in 2015, Price said, adding if all proposed projects go ahead, 2016 will see the around the same amount.

In his presentation, Price went over Sidney’s accomplishments in 2015, from putting up directional signs and beginning the process to clean up Reay Creek, to furthering plans for a new fire hall and skate park and improving the Town’s use of social media.

Looking further ahead, Price gave brief descriptions of a planned waterfront redevelopment plan, a new workforce housing project on offer and an ongoing study of the West Sidney Industrial Area.

A planned large parking lot being proposed by the Town, Price added, was not successful in earning any government grant money. As a result, he said the Town will pay for it itself.

“It looks like we’ll have to finance this one ourselves,” he said.

Price also spoke to recent development issues pitting council and some of its electorate against one another. Price defended council’s recent votes to allow high-density residential areas, as “the right thing to do.”

— by Steven Heywood and Carlie Connolly/News staff