Opponents of two large commercial development projects on the Saanich Peninsula have started petitions, with which they hope to influence political policy in North Saanich and Sidney.
Yet since both petitions — one against Sandown Commons in North Saanich and the other against Gateway in Sidney — started, they have garnered little response. They are, however, helping continue to stir the pot over what are controversial projects in both communities.
The Concerned Citizens of the Saanich Peninsula started their petition opposing the existing zoning of the Sandown commercial site two weeks ago. In it, they are asking the District of North Saanich to rescind their approval of the project — specifically that the bylaw in place allows “mid-box” or “big-box” retail stores.
Concerned Citizens member Hildegard Horie says they hope the petition will wake people up to what’s happening at Sandown. She said if commercial use is part of the deal between the property owner and the District, it should better fit with the community and be considerably smaller.
Horie said the community was so focussed on the donation of 83 acres of agricultural land to the municipality and what could be done with it, that what was happening on the 12 acres of commercial space was momentarily missed.
“What could happen there now if not what we were told at the beginning,” she said.
In the early days of Sandown Commons, development company Omicron was hired by the Randall family to plan for a retail site. Horie said she remembers discussion about the area’s heritage and having it part of the commercial development. She added many people at various community discussions wanted something like Matticks Farm in Cordova Bay.
Since then, Omicron was replaced by Platform Properties as the developer of the 160,000 square-foot site and started to advertise the area as open to larger stores — in the 40,000 square feet range. It’s a size Horie said fits into the mid-box store model.
Platform Properties’ own project listings has Sandown’s redevelopment valued at $30 million-plus, with retail opportunities such as a grocery anchor, mid-box and more. While the 12-acre site has been zoned for development, the owners must still meet a variety of conditions set out by the District and the Agricultural Land Commission, including an agrologist report and site reclamation, as there are buildings on site dating to the area’s use as a horse racing track. Most recently, Platform Properties presented North Saanich with a reclamation and preliminary drainage plan.
Councillor Geoff Orr pointed out in an email to the PNR that “this is required as part of the Phased Development Agreement between the District and the Randall family (owners).”
“This is only one of the ALC requirements which will allow the 12 acres to be removed from the ALR,” he stated.
Orr noted the ALC conditions on the land’s removal from the ALR are linked to a five-year conditional approval, which expires in November, 2016. He added he plans later this month to ask his council to have a new Sandown report prepared to discuss the current status and next steps.
Until those conditions are met by the owner, the development cannot proceed. The proponents are also required to submit a development application to North Saanich and have it approved, prior to any work starting.
Horie said while the petition calls for the existing approval bylaw to be repealed, she doesn’t disagree with some form of commercial development on the site — as long as it doesn’t detract from downtown Sidney’s business community.
“We want it to be fair,” she said. “For Sidney and for North Saanich not to become another Langford.”
The Concerned Citizens’ petition caught the attention of Sidney Mayor Steve Price when it was dropped off at Town hall. The petition can be found by asking for it at stores like Capital Iron and the Nature House in Sidney — or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Price has asked North Saanich to study Sandown’s impact on his community and on how the development would impact traffic along the Pat Bay Highway and McDonald Park Road — a route the municipalities share.
Thus far, North Saanich council has refused to do any more studies, citing the fact those were done in 2012 when the Sandown deal was approved.
Price and Sidney council have their hands full with a controversial development project in their own borders, the Sidney Gateway, on land controlled by the Victoria Airport Authority.
It’s inexorably linked with Sandown not only because of their proximity and impact on the same market area, but because it’s being developed by Omicron, Sandown’s original development company.
Gateway has come under scrutiny since it was first proposed, for its perceived impact on Sidney’s downtown core. The Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) has stated they are looking for a development complimentary to the Town and offered Omicron the opportunity to do so. Gateway’s current plans for the 100,000 square-foot site show a grocery anchor, medical offices, drive-through restaurants and more. They also include plans for traffic improvements (pending approval by the B.C. transportation ministry) and a pedestrian overpass — an amenity that has been very much part of Price’s wish list for Sidney since before he became mayor. Omicron spokesperson Peter Laughlin has said his company would pay for the overpass, helping create better pedestrian links with downtown Sidney.
The Town asked for and received a third party impact study, paid for by Omicron, shortly after Omicron officially presented their plans to the municipality in late May and brought to the council meeting of June 6, along with the impact study. They are seeking a land rezoning from Sidney — turning the site which is currently residential, into commercial property. The actual development and building permit approvals will be considered by the VAA.
Price has stated that the impact report — and follow up research information — shows that Gateway will be a net benefit to the Town, despite what detractors are saying.
One of those opponents is Adrian Kershaw, who on July 11 started the Keep Sidney Strong Facebook page. It’s primary purpose appears to be linking to an online petition, although he said there is a paper version making the rounds.
It claims Gateway would capture 25 per cent of business from Sidney and “hollow out” the downtown. So far, the online petition lists only seven people who have signed it.
Kershaw said that was expected, and the paper version has between 200 and 300 signatures already. He’s hoping to get 1,200, in order to send a strong message to Sidney council by the time of a planned public hearing.
He said the Canadian average for retail floor space is 14 square feet per capita — in Sidney, it’s 20 sq. ft. — or 18 if one takes away the vacant retail spaces.
With the addition of Gateway and Sandown retail space, Kerhsaw said, it becomes 28 sq. ft. for the approximately 24,000 people in Sidney and North Saanich.
“It doesn’t make sense.”
Kershaw said it seems like North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall and Price have entrenched themselves in their communities’ respective projects. They will have to come together to talk about a vision for both, he continued, if there’s any hope of getting better growth planning on the Peninsula.
Like Horie, Kershaw is hoping enough voices — either through the petitions or by resident turnout at public meetings — will change the minds of the VAA and both municipal councils.
“We do need some development,” Kershaw said. “It just needs to be complimentary.”
Sidney council has expressed confidence in the impact study and has advanced their rezoning process to a public hearing, set for September 12. It takes place at the SHOAL Centre on Resthaven Drive at 7 p.m. Council has the option at that time, following the hearing, to adopt the proposed rezoning bylaw.
Prior to that, however, Omicron has been invited by the Town to update the information about Gateway at a special meeting August 22 at municipal hall.