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.