Talk to the locals of Cordova Bay and few, if any, will disagree the Cordova Bay Plaza strip mall is in need of an upgrade.
The sprawling parking lot and aging building have become iconic for all the wrong reasons, unlike the historic Beach House (formerly McMorran’s) which sits across Cordova Bay Road.
Everybody is in agreement, store owners, customers and the extended community alike, that a better use of the plaza is long overdue. There’s been plenty of tales that a new development was on the way but after 20 years, some are hesitant to believe it.
The last time a proposal came through, prior to the year 2000, it hit a wall when the ground tested positive for leaked fuel from a former gas station. The province deemed the soil remediation process over in 2012, but it took until this year for a new proposal to come to light.
Joan Windle, now in her 90s, uses a walker to visit the plaza from her home next door at the Cordova Bay Beach Estates, where she’s lived since 1997. She recalls former proposals for a residential building on the property that she was unhappy with, but is accepting of a mixed use concept, should it be done right, she says.
“We have so many cyclists and walkers that need it here,” Windle said. “This is a community place, we all know the owners and employees in each store [and it should stay that way]. How some of the businesses have survived, I’m not sure, but I thank them, they’re needed.”
Leading the new development is James Gardiner, a real estate agent, and well-known area architect Alan Lowe, who is hoping to have the newest proposal submitted to Saanich planning within a month. Lowe, the former mayor of Victoria, has been busy in Saanich of late, completing the new King Lasik commercial building at Tillicum Road and the Trans-Canada Highway, as well as multiple projects for the Hansbraun Investments, which includes shopping centres such as Royal Oak, Saanich Plaza and Saanich Centre. He’s also behind the retrofit and expansion of the iconic Turner building near the Royal Jubilee Hospital on Richmond Avenue.
The plan with the Cordova Bay Plaza is to create a mixed-use development of residential and commercial, with a pedestrian linear plaza along Cordova Bay Road, Lowe said.
“The new grocery store space will be approximately 17,000 square-feet, with another 17,000 to 18,000 square-feet of retail space for the rest of the mall.”
Tru Value Foods, Scotia Bank, Calico Cupboard, the Dollar Store and the Mason Jar restaurant will all be invited to stay. The residential element is likely to include about 80 condos of varying size, though that number is exploratory for now, Gardiner said.
The height will reach four storeys, which is within the local area plan limit. In fact, nothing about the condominiums or the commercial space will demand a variance. The plan will include 300 parking spots, split between one level below ground and another above.
At this rate, the plans wouldn’t necessitate a public hearing but the development group plans to meet with Cordova Bay residents regardless, and hope to do so by the end of September, Lowe said.
“Community meetings aren’t required but are important so we’ll be meeting with the community anyways,” Lowe said.
The fact that the current building was built in the 1960s and opened to the fanfare of visiting politician Lester B. Pearson, just prior to his election as prime minister, should be telling enough, said Larry Gontovnick, president of the Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs.
“The CBA is really excited to see the development of the plaza going forward, we very much look forward to a mix of commercial and residential space in what will be our village, as it is a village centre after all.”
Even with the positive feedback and desire for an upgrade, Cordova Bay residents won’t be holding their breath. Bigger developments in the area tend to drag on.
The badminton-focused Cordova Bay Community Club, in the run-down 1949 building on Sutcliffe Road, has been working since 2013 to build a new four-court building that would go in the parking lot. Aragon Properties has been in the planning stages since 2014 for a 385-unit development on the site of the former Trio gravel pit.
Lowe is hoping his project can be approved within six months in order to begin construction on the new plaza next spring.
“There will be an opportunistic window of time to excavate a parking lot one level below ground, when the heavy flow of the water table beneath the plaza slows down.”