Though the district set a larger venue, about 50 people trickled in to the public hearing last night (March 21) to address a pair of bylaws that would allow for large retail stores in the Keating area. While all 19 people who spoke showed some form of opposition to the bylaws, competing visions voiced by the residents highlighted part of the problem facing council: the community’s desires are varied when it comes to revitalizing the Keating corridor.
Some want to see it made a viable shopping corridor while others are concerned that it be successful, but stay within the official community plan statement that Keating not become a third commercial centre in competition with the Brentwood Bay and Saanichton village centres.
Bylaw 1760 would amend the official community plan in Central Saanich for large retail uses in the industrial area on Keating X Road by removing the 53,800 square feet floor area restriction for single retail use.
Bylaw 1761 would amend the land use bylaw similarly, allowing for larger floor area ratio, but would affect all land in the district zoned light industrial (L1).
“My main concern is the second bylaw, the one that in effect turns the entire industrial area into a commercial area. At the moment there are a few people employed in building in the industrial area,” said Ian Cameron, who spoke first.
He noted that in one building he visited there are five businesses, three of which he uses. The estimated payrolls in those businesses run from $32,000 to $63,000 a year and most of those employees live in Central Saanich.
“If this goes through and a big box retailer builds there, what would the wages be of the people working there? It would be minimum wage,” Cameron said. “At the moment we’ve got local industries that are making useful things and paying decent wages … and all that money stays right here.”
Most people live in the community for the tranquility and rural atmosphere, said Frank White, but the bills need to be paid.
“I think everyone in the municipality including mayor and council want status quo,” said the Keating X Road property owner. “We have to come up with a balanced plan … so we can retain a rural area.”
White came the closest to supporting the bylaws.
“The park is one of your biggest tax areas. If the park goes downhill and the assessed values go down, which they have in the past year, your taxes go down,” he said. “By opening it up to different types of businesses it will help.”
“I’m not in favour of big box stores,” he added. “[But] you’re not going to stop the big box stores coming to reserves. At least it lets us get a little share of it and get some taxes. … Big box stores are a fact of life.”
Wayne Watkins suggested council get input from local realtors, business owners and others about what might be optimum for attracting businesses.
“Let’s find out if there’s a benefit or not,” he said.
Bob Thompson also felt the bylaws came too quickly, without enough information.
“My concern is that these amendments are an overreaction to the proposal at Tsawout,” said Bob Thompson. “I’d like to suggest a more proactive approach. … The place to start this discussion is a planning exercise.”
He suggested council invest in a local area plan for the industrial portion of the district and promote the area.
“These bylaws signify a sign of desperation,” said Elizabeth Chambers. “It’s a sign of surrender, of the goals we’ve had for many decades here of having small communities, local business, and keeping most of the land for agricultural use. “
She noted that thousands of people manage to access the world-famous Butchart Gardens each year, despite remote and difficult access.
“I don’t think the council and the chamber have a very good job of using that corridor to champion Central Saanich,” she said.
With the public hearing closed, council can not hear any new information until making a decision at a future council meeting.
Coun. Terry Siklenka was absent from the public hearing.
Real estate perspective
Michael Miller of Colliers International Victoria represented a property owner in the Keating area and offered a sales perspective for the evening. The company actively marketed the Keating property for six months and had one proposal fall through.
“It’s the market, and it’s telling us that we need to be more flexible,” Miller said.
Highway flyover feedback
“The flyover does not seem to be going anywhere,” said Wayne Watkins during the public hearing to allow large retailers in the Keating area.
“It seems that we have no say. Both the Pat Bay Highway 17 and West Saanich Road 17A are our roads to get into Central Saanich and we have no say. Somehow that has to be adjusted.”
Frank White, a business owner on Keating X Road, expressed dismay over the proposed highway alterations to allow for the large retail proposal called Jesken Town Centre, at Jus Kun Road at Highway 17.
“For 20 years we’ve asked for an overpass and there’s been talk but no action,” he said. “You’ve got to step up to it.”
Calling for a commission
“For a business owner that’s been in this community for 25 years … I am extremely disappointed at council of the past that have showed zero interest in the economic development of this community. There’s never been an economic development committee,” said Jim Townley, who owns a coffee shop in Saanichton. “General consensus is Central Saanich is not open for business.”
He asked for more information before voicing opposition or support for allowing larger retailers in the district and noted that the two First Nations on the Peninsula planning large-scale shopping draws are beyond district control.
“They have the right to direct their own thing … they’re taking on a more economic focused approach to their land than we are,” Townley said. “The change in the bylaw is only one step of a bigger picture of what is the vision of business in Central Saanich. We don’t have a clear understanding of what that vision is.”