Sandown’s ship has sailed and Sidney’s public call for it to change course has North Saanich politicians scratching their heads.
On Monday, Sidney Mayor Steve Price issued an open letter to North Saanich residents and their municipal hall. Citing the two communities’ symbiotic relationship, Price urged the District to change the plan for the former Sandown horse racing track. Twelve acres of the 95-acre property has been set aside for a retail centre known as Sandown Commons.
In his letter, Price wrote that as it stands now, Sandown Commons would negatively affect Sidney’s downtown businesses. He suggested that North Saanich turn the site into a technology park or extension of the existing industrial area nearby.
The full text of Price’s letter can be read on page seven of today’s News Review.
North Saanich council discussed the letter Monday night and other than a little sympathy expressed for the cumulative effects of added traffic in the area, the council jumped all over Price’s comments and his ongoing call for a study looking at how Sandown Commons might hit downtown Sidney.
“The request doesn’t seem to understand that the Sandown project is complete and has begun,” said North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall.
Finall noted the owners, the Randall Family, and their agent, Platform Properties, recently completed a hydrological study of the land — one of the District’s conditions prior to issuing a development permit. The land must be reclaimed and buildings on the site must come down prior to any development of the retail site.
Finall added this was all decided nearly two years ago — and that the Town of Sidney was consulted at the time for their opinion on the project.
Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan said Sidney was consulted at the time and not once did their council or administration mention any concern they had over Sandown’s impact on their downtown business community.
“The ship is sailed,” he said, pointing out to council later in the meeting that Sidney had not yet consulted with North Saanich on Gateway.
Councillor Murray Weisenberger added Price and Sidney Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey were on council two years ago.
“Were they asleep at the switch or what?”
In November of 2014, North Saanich finalized its deal with the Randall family to redevelop a portion of the racetrack land, in exchange for them giving the rest of the property to the District. At the time, the Randall family had engaged the services of Omicron Developments — the same firm that’s proposing the Gateway retail site to the Town of Sidney today. Omicron was replaced by Platform Properties at Sandown more than a year ago.
Finall said during that process, North Saanich completed a traffic study that was eventually approved by the B.C. transportation ministry. She said all that’s changed now, is the rise of the Gateway proposal.
Coun. Celia Stock said she was surprised by Price’s most recent letter.
‘It’s rather odd that a mayor of another municipality would make such a request,” she said, adding she considers what Price is doing “mischief-making,” and “not thought out.”
This isn’t Sidney’s first missive on the subject. On June 29, Price sent a letter to Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman, asking that he intervene with North Saanich and ask them to study the impact of Sandown on downtown Sidney. Holman suggested that the town ask the District directly.
During Monday’s debate, Finall said any responsibility for an impact study should be with Sidney.
Coun. Geoff Orr, however, noted that Sandown Commons would have access off of McDonald Park Road — whose street infrastructure is shared with their neighbouring community.
“We can’t just say ‘oh, bad Sidney’,” he said, adding he thinks North Saanich cannot ignore the cumulative impact of both developments on traffic on Beacon Avenue and the Pat Bay highway.
Finall drew up a draft response to Price on Monday that outlined many of North Saanich’s concerns with his request.
“With the final approval of Sandown project already in place, we can understand that the prospect of a further new retail development at Gateway could possibly create a cumulative effect that would be concerning to Sidney retailers,” she wrote in the draft.
“As Gateway is still at the application phase, we respectfully suggest it would be timely for your council to consider obtaining an independent professional study of the possible cumulative economic impact on Sidney retail business of the proposed Gateway Mall development in light of the existing Sandown project.”
Councillors voted to not send Finall’s first draft, calling some of its content too strongly worded. They voted instead to have the mayor re-write a response, get council’s approval and email it to the Town this week. Finall and Coun. Orr contacted the PNR Thursday, stating that the mayor’s original draft was, in fact, the letter sent to Sidney’s mayor.