LOOKING BACK 2013: Part two

The Peninsula News Review examines the top stories of 2013

Stories by Steven Heywood

• Sidney’s Beacon Avenue traffic flow takes a new turn

Drivers of Sidney’s main street might be getting turned around in the new year — or they might not. One thing is for certain, the Town of Sidney will have to come up with a firm direction this year.

One of the community’s biggest stories of 2013 is conflict over which direction traffic should be flowing on Beacon Avenue. The latest round of debate and public consultation on the issue is the culmination of almost a decade of quiet lobbying by one man to change a three-block section of one-way traffic back to its original two-way flow.

Denis Paquette, a Sidney business owner, has decried the one-way flow since it was implemented back in the mid-1990s. In 2013, he officially formed a lobby group — Sidney Traffic (later to changed to Tourism) Improvement Group, or STIG. Teaming up with other business owners, STIG successfully lobbied town council to start a public consultation process into whether the street should or should not be changed.

The issue is not without controversy. Former Mayor Don Amos stands by the decision to change the traffic flow to one-way between Fifth and Second streets, as do plenty of residents and business owners who like Beacon Avenue the way it is — pedestrian-friendly. Paquette and a growing number of other business owners want to see it revert back to a full two-way pattern, a system they feel will encourage drivers, tourists and shoppers to stay longer and thereby improve the fortunes of the local economy.

With plenty of other issues surrounding Beacon traffic — from safety to the economy and downtown beautification — the public consultation on the future of Sidney’s main drag will be interesting to watch. The first public meeting to be held by the Town is Jan. 23.

Come get your share

Sidney businesses encourage you to come get your share of what’s on offer in their Vancouver Island community. In 2013, the Sidney Business Improvement Area (SBIA) was launched to create a local brand with plans to market it throughout Greater Victoria and abroad.

In the spring, the Town of Sidney authorized the SBIA to begin collecting a fee directly from businesses in the main downtown core of the community. The Town will collect the fee (a total of around $250,000 annually) and pass it on to the SBIA. The money will be used to create marketing material (online and print), pay for advertising campaigns and develop web-based ads, video and more.

The goal of the SBIA is to help improve the local economy, allowing small business owners in Sidney to better compete with area shopping interests. The SBIA also plans to market Sidney and Saanich Peninsula attractions and events — another way to attract people to the area. Past SBIA marketing committee chair Angus Matthews said they plan to target audiences mostly outside of Sidney. The brand — Distinctly Sidney — is being paired with the catchphrase, “Come Get Your Share” which in itself can be combined with the great things Sidney has to offer (such as ‘Shopping: Come Get Your Share’, or ‘Wonder: Come Get Your Share’).

Locally, the brand has appeared on B.C. Transit buses and on billboards. People can check up on the marketing efforts at the SBIA website, distinctlysidney.ca.

The effort to create the SBIA was an attempt to bring business owners together for a single purpose — to improve the local economy. What could have been the community’s third business organization turned out to be the death knell of another. Shortly after the establishment of the SBIA, the Sidney Business Association (SBA) folded, citing a lack of money and support from the municipality. The Town of Sidney had earlier stated it was owed just under $20,000 in summer street market operation fees by the SBA.

That leaves two local business organizations — the SBIA and the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, which addresses business issues and needs in Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich.

• North Saanich council bets its money on a land swap deal

Sandown race track in North Saanich has sat vacant for years and it was in 2013 that a deal was finally reached between its owners and the municipality to redevelop the site.

The Vancouver-based Randall family and development company Omicron completed negotiations with the District in September and October to split the 39-hectare site into a large parcel (33.6 hectares) for designation as agricultural land and the remainder (4.85 hectares) rezoned as commercial property.

The deal was made after the District turned down a similar plan in 2012. What changed the second time around was the owners’ willingness to pay an estimated $700,000 to $750,000 to clean up the site — tear down buildings and remediate the soil. The municipality rejected the first deal, saying they did not want taxpayers burdened with that cost.

North Saanich also had to come up with a similar-sized parcel of land to swap for the commercial property to ensure no net loss of agricultural land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

With a new deal in place, Omicron and the District plan to meet with the public to explain the plans. In October, Peter Laughlin of Omicron told the News Review they have plans to create a commercial space on the east side of the property, nearest the West Sidney industrial area. Shopping centre concepts were floated at conventions by Omicron in early 2013 and the land was advertised for sale as a potential strip mall. Laughlin said the Randalls and Omicron are working on options for the site and will have the public review them along the way.

There are no plans for residential units on the non-agricultural land.

North Saanich council calls the deal a good one for the community. Mayor Alice Final told the PNR the offer is a generous one.

“This offer will return much of the land to agricultural use, but at the same time result in a 12 acre (4.85 hectare) commercial development. The net benefit for the community will be tremendous,” said Finall. “The deal is slated to add $1.2 million to our tax base in the first five years, according to the business plan. It’s a good deal for everyone concerned, and a very generous offer by the Randall family.”

Actual remediation work is yet to begin. Redevelopment of the site, too, is still in the works.

• A year in politics

The Saanich Peninsula saw a significant change in provincial politics in May’s election.

Not only did Gary Holman become the first New Democrat MLA in the history of the riding (Saanich North and the Islands), he had to do it in an exceedingly close race.

It took an official Elections B.C. recount after election night tallies had Holman leading the B.C. Liberals’ Stephen Roberts by only around 200 votes. That count would eventually hold up and Holman would become MLA, following longtime B.C. Liberal politician Murray Coell.

The provincial election on the Saanich Peninsula was a tight, three-way race between Holman, Roberts and Adam Olsen. Olsen, a former Central Saanich District councillor, left municipal politics to run for the Green Party in B.C. He made a strong run for the seat but ended up in third place. Olsen’s effort is generally seen as having split the vote in the riding, but the result did reflect the area’s growing interest in the Green Party.

In no small measure, the reason for that is Elizabeth May.

The federal leader of the Green Party, May is MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and has had a rewarding year of her own.

May was honoured by her peers on Parliament Hill and by Ottawa media as one of the hardest-working and busiest MPs in the House and in her constituency. She was also given the honour, if one could call it that, of being one of the worst-dressed MPs — but she chalks that up to being just too busy to worry about that.