A development permit for the site of the old Sidney fire hall was approved in a Special Council Meeting on Tuesday night. The six-storey proposal would include 22,000 sq. ft. of ground-floor commercial space and 82 condos. An additional three-storey structure facing Second St. will be for office space. Twenty Modo car share memberships were added to the proposal before it was approved.
The meeting was moved from the Sidney Town Hall to the old fire hall itself to accommodate the number of attendees, which Town of Sidney staff and councillors estimated to be between 120 and 150.
The motion passed 4-3 with Mayor Price and three councillors: Cam McLennan, Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, and Tim Chad in support. Couns. Peter Wainwright, Erin Bremner-Mitchell, and Barbara Fallot opposed it.
In a statement on Facebook, Bremner-Mitchell said she felt residents considered the proposal rushed, and that the decision “should not be made JUST to satisfy the debt of the Community Safety Building.”
“I have heard very few comments in favour of the development, and I find the arguments against align with my thoughts of the proposal,” she wrote.
In an emailed statement, Sidney mayoral candidate Cliff McNeil-Smith said “there were many well-reasoned speakers during public participation, but there was an overriding sense of frustration.” He said that “taxpayers deserve respect and the opportunity to give verbal input beyond two minutes with a buzzer.” The 4-3 split vote “highlights how our current Council itself doesn’t have a shared vision for our community.”
Mayor Steve Price said the meeting was “stacked” by the Sidney Community Association and Wainwright.
“They’ve done a good job getting people to write in and complain, but the other 11,500 people in the Town, I think, are quite happy,” said Price.
“I spoke for the silent majority of people who want the progress that they’ve seen, who want the new tax revenue, who want us to use some of that money to solve the doctor’s crisis, solve the housing crisis, so I was quite clear with where I was coming from,” said Price.
A resident, Adrian Kershaw, asked the audience for a show of hands to see who was for and against the proposal. According to him, two hands went up, while Wainwright counted four. The rest were in opposition. Kershaw said in a letter to the editor that he was “lectured by Mayor Price about not listening to his instructions about meeting conduct!”
Price said the incident was “very disrespectful.”
“A council meeting is no different from a court of law. There’s no clapping or yelling or screaming before a judge. Same thing with mayor and council. You don’t do polls like that. If you take a poll of 200 people who walk in together through an orchestrated effort, that’s where all those people were.”
Price said the project was vetted by Sidney’s Advisory Planning Commission and approved, which is “the guiding light that I use to make my decisions…” The building was revised by the APC to step back the fifth and sixth floors facing Sidney Ave., among other changes.
In an interview, Coun. Wainwright said he was “unhappy that the decision was made.”
“This was the minimum that the law requires in terms of public involvement,” said Wainwright, which he felt was inadequate.
In terms of size, Wainwright said the six-storey building in question was about the size of the Landmark building, and about two-thirds that of the Sidney Pier Hotel. In comparison to two other large developments, the Pier and the Cameo building (which contains a new Star Cinema), Wainwright felt those buildings, while large, offered amenities that Town residents wanted (like Beacon Park and the theatre). In those cases, there was an open house and a public hearing due to the fact they required OCP and zoning amendments.
Wainwright said “if we seriously believed that the community view was different than [the feedback] we were getting, it would make sense to confirm that” via a scientific poll. He made a motion asking for a such poll between now and the Oct. 16 deadline, which was defeated on Tuesday.
Wainwright said financial considerations were not the only important factor.
“Would you pay 10 bucks more in taxes for a development that conforms to the OCP and doesn’t have parking issues, and we never asked that [of the public],” said Wainwright.