Saanich balancing rural and urban needs

2018 promises to be a busy year for the District of Saanich as its planning staff continue to grapple with a range of initiatives against the backdrop of their day-to-day work.

Cameron Scott, manager of community planning, listed four such long-range planning initiatives that will work their way through 2018. They include the Agriculture and Food Security Plan, whose draft version is currently undergoing public review. Its purpose is to provide Saanich with a co-ordinated approach for supporting agriculture and improving food security over the next 10 to 15 years.

Some 3,800 hectares in Saanich fall within agricultural zoning, and some 2,222 ha – or 21 per cent – of the Saanich’s total area are actively farmed, as local agricultural soil has “high or very high” agricultural capabilities, with minimal constraints to grow a variety of crops.While Saanich limits urban sprawl through the urban containment boundary, more work remains. “Despite this, much of Saanich is not actively farmed and access to healthy, local food is difficult for some households,” the report reads. “As such, approximately about six per cent of households in Greater Victoria are considered ‘food insecure.’”

If the agricultural plan speaks to the long-term future of rural Saanich, the community’s urban core centred around Uptown will generate considerable attention in the opening half of 2018 as the Uptown Douglas Corridor Plan moves through its final two phases: public review, and adoption.

“It’s quite an important plan for Saanich and its future,” said Scott. The plan – which council received last month – calls for the creation of a pedestrian-friendly, compact urban area that will serve as a regional transit hub. The area is home to some 4,000 people, and the place of work of some 10,000 people. Another 30,000 people use transit through the area, and some 140,000 people live within a 10-minute drive.

If the Uptown Douglas Corridor Plan bears regional significance, Saanich planning staff will also have their hands full with updating various local area plans, starting with Cordova Bay and Cadboro Bay, after council agreed to speed up the process. The local area plan for Cadboro Bay last received an update in 2002, for Cordova Bay in 1998.

Staff are handling both areas together, partially because of their similarities, partially because both neighbourhoods have a village feel. In the case of Cordova Bay, many area residents feel their neighbourhood is losing this feeling as area residents wrestle with a handful of residential developments critics say will change the character of the area.

Housing – a prominent subject in light of high housing costs – will also be on the agenda, as staff conducts a study into whether Saanich should permit garden suites, which the municipality defines as “detached ground-oriented residential dwellings” located in backyards of single family homes.

“Each project has a unique set of circumstances and stakeholders that we look to address,” said Scott.

Looking at specific development projects, the end of 2017 comes with the news that the University Heights shopping centre will undergo redevelopment. Plans include 350 rental units that would sit above about 185,000 square-feet of retail space. Built in 1988, University Heights consists out of 205,500 square-feet of lease-able space, with RBC, CIBC, Thrifty Foods Liquor, Save-On-Foods, Landmark Cinemas, V.I. Fitness, restaurants and independent shops.

Wesbild bought it for a reported $52 million in 2015 and the 500,000 square-foot land and buildings are currently valued at $53 million by B.C. Assessment.

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