Gordon Head residents debate growing university population, Shelbourne Valley plan

Gordon Head’s Local Area Plan, last revised in the 1980s, needs an update, says new president at annual general meeting

Saanich’s community associations are in the swing of electing new boards and tackling issues like cycling infrastructure, community gardens and land use.

For the Gordon Head Residents Association, there’s also an expanding university campus and the longstanding issue of a cattle feed lot in the middle of a residential neighbourhood to keep new president Ray Travers busy.

On April 23, former Gordon Head president Paul McKivett stepped down from his role because of a move to Mt. Tolmie, where he’s expected to continue working with the community association there. Travers, as last year’s vice-president, was ready to fill McKivett’s shoes for 2015/16. He’ll be focusing on three priorities for the association in the coming year, including updating Gordon Head’s Local Area Plan (last done in the 1980s), opening up communication with the University of Victoria as the campus continues to grow, and improving communication with residents.

“We exist because we’re a voice for the people of Gordon Head. It’s a challenge, but the key thing to remember is we don’t take sides. We’ll try to work together for the common good of the entire area,” Travers told the 50-person crowd at the Gordon Head United Church last week.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell opened the meeting by detailing how council has improved public input options and spoke about his desire to get more people plugged into Saanich’s governance by webcasting meetings.

“I hope we get webcasting done this year,” Atwell said. “It’s something other municipalities have done and we’re going to catch up to that.”

Atwell then took a series of questions from the crowd that ranged from the possibility of solar paneling on municipal buildings to food security to the cattle feed lot.

Many Gordon Head residents also expressed frustration at the sluggish, 30-year implementation timeline for the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan and the traffic data that was used to create the draft plan.

The plan – which took five years to create – is meant to guide land use and transportation decision-making in the Shelbourne Valley over the next 30 years, but some residents want more immediate action.

A public hearing before council to finalize the action plan hasn’t yet been scheduled, but Atwell agreed there are outstanding concerns.

“I don’t want to go back to the beginning, but if we don’t have a good understanding of where the traffic is coming from and going, we’ll never get better access for cars, cyclists or buses,” he said.  “We need to look at what can we do in the short-term so that this plan doesn’t take 30 years.”

Travers said he’s particularly interested in “getting out of our silos” to open up better discussion with the University of Victoria about the impact of a growing student population in Gordon Head.

“When students become about 20 per cent of the neighbourhood, we have to be really concerned. But we have to communicate so good things happen and bad things don’t happen,” he said.

editor@saanichnews.com

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