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Saanich approves Cordova Bay Plaza proposal

Re-development of Cordova Bay Plaza passes 8-1
This rendering shows the proposed re-development of Cordova Bay Plaza that council approved 8-1 Monday night. Image from Alan Lowe Architect This artist’s rendering shows the proposed re-development of Cordova Bay Plaza that Saanich’s committee-of-the-whole approved / rejected Monday following a lengthy public hearing. Image by Alan Lowe Architect

A vacant lot in Cordova Bay will undergo re-development after council approved plans for a mixed residential-commercial development following a meeting that lasted more than four hours and drew more than 200 people at its start.

Councillors voted 8 to 1 to greenlight plans for a complex consisting out of three four-storey buildings with commercial space on the ground floor of each building and condominiums on top.

Councillors first approved the measure during a committee-of-the-whole meeting, then ratified it during a regular council meeting.

Monday’s vote clears the path for the re-development of the neighbourhood’s commercial hub. The proposal will bring a grocery store, bank and other retail space to the area, as well as 91 residential units, along with other traffic improvement and community amenities.

Couns. Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff, Karen Harper, Fred Haynes, Dean Murdock, Colin Plant, Vicki Sanders, and Leif Wergeland supported the proposal against the lone opposition of Mayor Richard Atwell after they had listened for almost four hours to public input, with opponents outweighing supporters by a margin of 35 to 24, according to an unofficial, unverified count. Coun. Brownoff said opponents and proponents balanced each other.

Opponents also presented evidence 71 per cent of 255 written submission to Saanich ran against the development. The Saanich News could not independently confirm this claim.

The meeting opened with an address from chief administrative officer (CAO) Paul Thorkelsson, who reminded the public that the purpose of Monday’s hearing was to consider form and character of the proposal rather than land use, noting the C-3 zoning for the site permits the development as proposed. He also told the audience developers did not request zoning variances.

Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning, confirmed the proposal conformed with the Official Community Plan (OCP) following a question from Plant, who asked for clarification concerning inconsistencies between the OCP and development permit area guidelines.

Hvozdanski said staff has to consider all documents, and staff concluded the proposal conformed with permissible use.

Under its terms, C-3 permits buildings as high as 15 metres. But opponents point out development permit area guidelines note “the massing and scale of buildings should be compatible with adjacent development and should reflect a small scale village-like character.” Critics also point out “[generally], new buildings [on Cordova Bay Road] should not exceed 7.5 m in height, except on the site in the extreme southwest corner of the area.”

But the “guidelines” also state that “higher buildings may be considered provided that adequate setbacks are maintained to prevent overshadowing of adjacent single family dwellings” and Saanich’s staff report notes development permit area guidelines are “are not prescriptive like zoning.”

An estimated 200 people — some watching from a viewing area set up inside Municipal Hall — then heard a presentation from the developers led by designing architect Alan Lowe, who delivered a passionate, forceful presentation in which he reiterated staff’s support for the proposal, while listing in exhaustive detail the various aspects of the proposal and extensive public consultation efforts. Lowe, supported by a string of experts, argued developers had gone through lengths to accommodate about 90 per cent of community concerns, adding further delays would jeopardize project.

The microphone then turned over to members of audience, of which at least 64 had signed up to speak, with an initial flurry of supporters.

Proponents of the plan, however, noted the proposal would help revive an area long over-due for re-development. It would also help individuals, who are currently living in the area, to stay in the area by downsizing into the new residential units. Several proponents also praised the efforts of the developers to address community concerns, and accused opponents of dogmatism in their opposition.

Key concerns of opponents focused on the proposed height of development, its appearance and siting, additional traffic along Cordova Bay Road through the area, and its overall impact on the “village-like” character of the neighbourhood, which currently finds itself in the very early stages of a process designed to revise its LAP.

Several speakers opposed the development compared the proposal to another version of Tuscany Village, the complex at the corner of McKenzie Avenue and Shelbourne Street

David Cronkhite, spokesperson for Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs, acknowledged developers had shown a willingness to work with the community in addressing neighbourhood concerns. But several issues remain outstanding, he said. Traffic, he said, remains a concern, in calling for various traffic calming measures. The association has also called on developers to lower the third building of the complex to three storeys and step back the third and fourth floor of the first building.

Council, he said, should make approval of the development conditional to addressing these concerns.

Hanny Pannekoek, a spokesperson for Cordova Bay Visions, a neighbourhood group, said she too would like to see a re-development of Cordova Bay Plaza. “But I’m opposed to the current development plan,” she said. Developers, she said, divided the community. She also picked through various inconsistencies between the OCP and the LAP.

In the end, these arguments failed to carry the day.

Coun. Leif Wergeland said Cordova Bay Plaza has and continues to change, and it is very unlikely that the community could ever agree on a project that would satisfy all.

“It might not be perfect, but it does have what many are looking for,” he said.

Coun. Karen Harper agreed. “Because of the zoning, because of the form and character test, I have to support this proposal,” she said.

While Coun. Susan Brice acknowledged the broader concerns of the community, she said council faced a “narrow path” in dealing with the proposal. “In total, it will be a good addition to the community,” she said.

Coun. Dean Murdock agreed. Never had so people told him what he could not consider during a hearing, he said.

Coun. Haynes said the applicant’s proposal satisfied form and character, but expressed concern about the level of division.

Atwell said Monday’s decision was one of the most difficult turning his time on council. While he predicted the complex will be a good addition to the neighbourhood, more could have been to address neighbourhood concerns. Another round of consultations would have been apppropriate, he said.

Monday’s vote marks a clear turning point in the land-use history of the site.

This history dates back to 1999 when council approved construction of a new shopping centre to replace Cordova Bay Plaza under a proposal that included a grocery store, a three-storey mixed use building with retail on the ground floor, 16 apartment units above a bank, and a small retail building fronting Cordova Bay Road. Council of the day, however, withheld issuance of the development permit pending site consolidation and resolution of contamination issues.

Despite their eventual resolution, they had significantly delayed the project, which never proceeded, notwithstanding an active development permit.

Facts on the ground, meanwhile, were working against the businesses operating of Cordova Bay Plaza, which in the words of one entrepreneur had turned into a “ghost town” by May 2017 following the closure of keystone tenant Tru Value grocery store. All remaining businesses had abandoned the centre by fall 2017.

But efforts by developer James Gardiner to re-develop the site continued, and eventually produced the current proposal designed by architect Alan Lowe following a public presentation in September 2017. Saaanich planning staff approved the proposal before sending it to council with a recommendation for approval.

But community support for various efforts to redevelop the site has hardly been unanimous. But the development also has supporters.

Monday’s vote decision to approve / reject came after council in November had rejected plans for a four-storey apartment building near the proposed Cordova Bay Plaza Development.

Opponents of the Cordova Bay Plaza Development said at the time that the rejection of the Doumac proposal could have a ripple effect. In the end, it did not.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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