Steve Price sees good things ahead for Sidney for 2016 and is letting residents and business owners know they are sure to experience many changes in the new year.
Price, the Mayor of Sidney, sat down with the PNR for an interview following his address at the Dec. 7 organizational meeting of council. That session saw councillors recognize long-serving staff members, make their annual committee appointments and discuss early the Town’s 2016-2018 Strategic Plan.
Price called that document — which was set to be approved Dec. 21 — the “face of our community in the years to come.”
The Strategic Plan opens with a vision of making Sidney “the best seaside town in Canada – vibrant, unique, welcoming.’ To get there, council outlines various initiatives to back up three main goals in reaching that vision: a resilient economy; balanced demographic, and; quality living environment.
Within each goal, Sidney’s Strategic Plan includes initiatives from redevelopment of the Beacon Wharf and a minor OCP review, to promoting the community for families and youth, to building a new community safety building.
In all, there are 17 main initiatives council hopes to undertake over the next three years in this plan, 11 of which they see starting or completing in 2016.
One of Price’s main points of his address was that people in Sidney should expect change.
“The Sidney of 2015 looks very different than the Sidney of 2000 and the Sidney of 2000, I guarantee you, looked very different than that of 1980,” he stated.
His comment was directed towards members of the community who have reacted to a series of new development proposals and approvals that see the Town growing up, instead of outwards. The Town’s long-standing policy of encouraging infill housing means new, taller buildings are going up — some in areas where there have been smaller homes and condo buildings.
Asked in an interview if he’s seen any softening to people’s reactions to this growth, Price said the comments are still arriving.
“People are seeing change as a result of decisions of past councils to see more housing built,” he said. “And decisions made today will build Sidney far into the future.”
Local government, he continued, has simply helped set the stage for private development to occur over many years. The type of housing and growth being seen today, Price explained, was set in motion prior to 2008, before the economy tanked in the wake of North American financial scandals. Price, however, has repeatedly rebuffed the idea that the Town needs to review and potentially revise its official community plan (OCP).
In the latest Strategic Plan, the only mention of the OCP is a minor update in 2018. That would review key areas within the OCP and “does not preclude the potential for considering OCP amendments involving development proposals or minor housekeeping.”
In his address, Price noted that the priorities laid out in the existing OCP, enacted in 2007, clearly sets the direction that the current council is following.
The mayor noted that local government has an overall goal in the background of increasing Sidney’s population. It sits at around 11,000 now and actually lost population in the last census count. Price said the Town has a capacity of around 15,000, before there starts to be serious impacts on local infrastructure.
Yet, with a focus on attracting families and young people to what has been a predominantly senior population remains a target. To get there, the Town is looking to not only attracting new jobs and businesses through local and regional economic development functions, but more affordable housing for working people. A step towards the latter was the recent announcement that the Greater Victoria Rental Development Society has applied to build a 56-unit building on Fourth Street.
Attracting new jobs might be tougher. Council, in its plan, includes only one real in-house development focus — the redevelopment of Beacon Wharf.
“It could be huge,” Price said.
Next year, he said he hopes to see the community work together on a new vision for the facility, working towards new designs and eventual funding and construction. Price said he sees services such as a new water taxi service between Sidney and Salt Spring Island, a Sidney to Vancouver passenger ferry and an expanded wharf/waterfront plan.
Price said he has already broached the idea of the passenger ferry services with operators of existing services on Salt Spring Island and between Nanaimo and Vancouver. It’s early days, yet, he admitted.
The idea would be to see more foot traffic in Sidney via a redeveloped wharf. Price said he would like to see a committee tackle the waterfront. Beacon wharf itself needs extensive upgrades — it currently cannot handle the weight of vehicles in addition to existing structures — and may require complete replacement.
“Realistically, for this to happen, the wharf is going to have to be replaced,” Price said, adding to do it, it will likely take a blend of municipal, provincial and federal funding.
That will be just one of the challenges ahead in the new year for this council.
Right off the bat is their plan to replace the fire hall with a community safety building. The project is currently waiting for word if it can be built on its second land choice. It’s initial siting on land next to Sidney Elementary School was rejected by School District 63 (Saanich). Now, it’s being eyes for property controlled by the War Memorial Society — operators of the Mary Winspear Centre. That land has a legal covenant on it that is currently being reviewed to see if this would even be possible.
As well, the Town received a letter from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation dated Nov. 2, stating that if the community proceeds with its current plan, it would effectively eliminate any plans for a traffic overpass onto Bevan Avenue — plans that have been in place since 2012.
Price said the design of the community safety building is such that it could be moved to a third site, if necessary.
The Town also has a busy year ahead as it looks to West Sidney for improvements in the industrial area. Nearby, the Town and Victoria Airport Authority are discussing plans for a large commercial development at the corner of Beacon Avenue and Highway 17.
In the meantime, Sidney has taken the lead in bringing various parties together to discuss the possible clean up of Reay Creek Pond, identified as containing heavy metal contaminants.
In his address, Price stated with these interesting changes, comes a test of Sidney’s residents.
“It all comes back to a sense of community – a sense of belonging,” he wrote, “that speaks directly to having an affordable place to live in our community so that everyone can share what this great Town has to offer.”