Proponents of a 10-acre commercial site at the corner of the Pat Bay Highway and Beacon Avenue gave the Town of Sidney its first official look at the Gateway proposal Monday and already critics are calling for a review.
Council has, in turn, asked both the developer and a research firm to provide for information at this early stage, as the municipality has only this one chance to have an official say on whether Gateway is appropriate use of the land.
The Town has sent the application for a 100,000 square foot commercial site on to its Advisory Planning Commission for review and recommendations. In so doing, Councillor Peter Wainwright noted he had concerns with the impact study supplied by Urbanics out of Vancouver. Urbanics was paid by the developer, Omicron, at the behest of the Town for an independent look at how the proposed Gateway would impact existing businesses.
Wainwright said Urbanics used the phone survey work of a company called Abingdon Research Group.
‘They are more involved with political campaigns,” he said. “It seems they are closer to the spin doctors than others. Who hired them?”
Tim Schmitt, an Urbanics Associate, said they did. Urbanics, Schmitt added, designed the survey and contracted Abingdon, who only made the calls and provided the results to Urbanics. Wainwright said he wanted more detail on those questions and the survey methodology than what Urbanics provided in its report to council.
That was just one area in which Wainwright had problems.
In a series of motions that were unanimously approved, Wainwright asked Omicron to provide its plan to re-route or deal with vehicle traffic during the construction of a proposed roundabout at Beacon Avenue west and Galaran Road. He also asked for the details of the phone survey questions and methodology used by Urbanics.
Wainwright also asked that council hear from road consulting firm Boulevard, which recently completed a traffic study for the Pat Bay Highway at Beacon Avenue. Wainwright noted that the firm rated the intersection poorly when it comes to current traffic movement. Council has concerns about the impact of Gateway on future traffic patterns and gridlock there.
Mayor Steve Price also wanted more information from Omicron before council considers its options on their application. He asked that the landscaping and street improvement plans be given to the Town before they make their decision.
“The Victoria Airport Authority issues the building permit in this, not the Town,” Price said. “So I’m asking for the (road infrastructure) improvement plan earlier.”
Omicron was hired by the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) in July 2015 to develop the site, after the VAA announced in the summer of 2014 it was looking into options for the land. Plans for a commercial site, Gateway, have been in the public eye for more than a year. Monday’s presentation by the proponents was the first official look at their application by the municipality.
Sidney is being asked to change the zoning of the land to make way for the development. It’s currently zoned residential and the Town’s official community plan has designated the area as a potential commercial site.
Peter Laughlin, Omicron’s Vancouver Island representative, said their application is for land use change only. If successful, they would see nine new structures for national grocery and drug stores, insurance and retail spaces, a medical offices building, fitness and daycare space, coffee shop, restaurants and a financial institution.
The plan also calls for road improvements to Beacon Avenue west and even new turning lanes on the highway — as well as a pedestrian overpass between Gateway and the Mary Winspear Centre. Laughlin said all of the traffic plans must be approved by the province in advance.
Schmitt, in presenting Urbanics’ impact study, noted current retailers in Sidney face external competition from other sites like Sandown in North Saanich and the Jesken Centre in Central Saanich, making Gateway the only one that would have direct benefit to Sidney.
The study, while noting the potential transfer of $7.6 million in retail sales from existing business to Gateway, among other impacts, concluded Gateway would benefit the community overall.
Yet, some critics said the impact study is potentially flawed, mostly due to the absence of some survey information.
Richard Talbot, a Sidney-based retail consultant and head of the council watchdog group Support Our Sidney, called on Urbanics to prove the validity of the phone survey data and issue its list of questions asked.
Talbot is calling on the Town to hire another consultant to conduct a third party review of the Urbanics report. Schmitt said Urbanics takes pride in the independence of its work, noting the report is “not all rosy.”
Susan Simosko, President of the Sidney Business Improvement Association Society (SBIA), said she is concerned about the competition Gateway will have with existing businesses.
“I do want both sides to thrive,” she said, suggesting equal size signage on both sides of the highway could help drive more traffic into downtown Sidney, as well as into Gateway.
Scott Garnet, who works in West Sidney, said he’s concerned with the potential for job losses in downtown Sidney as a result of Gateway. Omicron has estimated the site will create 220 new jobs once complete, but Garnet said those could be stolen from elsewhere in town.
Gateway did have its supporters. John Jurisic, Executive Director of the Sidney Industrial Group, said their members support it as it provides services and area improvements for the estimated 2,500 employees of West Sidney’s industrial area companies.
“Do we believe Sandown will benefit Sidney as much as Gateway would?” asked Ian Brown, who owns a business in West Sidney and is a past-president of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
Both residents and councillors made suggestions to the look of the proposed area, as well as possible tenants. Laughlin said, however, that this application is for land use only. More fleshed out details on the site would come later, during the development permit application process with the VAA.
Sidney’s role limited to land use
Sidney is only being asked to rule on land use for the Gateway plan. If the Town approves a zoning and OCP change, development and building permits would be issued by the Victoria Airport Authority.
The VAA, in a memorandum of understanding with the Town, is obliged to forward a development referral for comment, prior to VAA consideration.