Saanich council denied plans for a two-storey bank building at the corner of Shelbourne Avenue and McKenzie Avenue, citing concerns about its form and character.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was planning to build on a currently empty lot once occupied by a gas station adjacent to the Tuscany Village Development and opposite of the University Heights Shopping Centre, where the bank currently operates the branch that would have moved into the new building.
But council voted 8-1 against a motion by Coun. Colin Plant to issue the bank the requested development permit and variances.
“I think it meets all of the needs of the bank, but I am not sure it meets all of the needs of the community for the future,” said Mayor Richard Atwell in summarizing many of the concerns of his colleagues. “There are form and character issues in the short term, as well, as identified by the [Gordon Head Residents’ Association].” This area will undergo a lot of development in the future, he said. “And what we pass tonight is going to be with us for a long time.”
Coun. Leif Wergeland implicitly criticized the bank for presenting what staff called a “typical CIBC design” by noting that Canadian Tire changed the design of its Broadmead Centre location following public concerns. “When I look at this, it is a bank and it looks like a CIBC bank,” he said. “I’m not a designer, but I find it cold and I find it plain. I believe we could have gone higher.”
Coun. Susan Brice echoed those concerns in light of the importance that Saanich has attached to the future of Shelbourne Avenue, calling the proposed design “a lost opportunity” for CIBC. “I have been a customer since I was seven years old and I thought we could have done better,” she said.
Council denied the development permit after hearing from CIBC representatives and Don Gunn of the Gordon Head Residents’ Association, who noted that the proposed building violates many provisions of the Official Community Plan and the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan. “What we are getting here, in essence, is a blank wall on Shelbourne and it will be a dead space outside banking hours,” he said.
“This lot is really a gateway to our community and that whole corridor is going to evolve over time,” he said. “We feel it deserves better than a stock bank building.”
This narrative, however, does not quite fit the staff report, which recommended endorsement of the development permit and the requested variances.
“Based on Saanich’s Development Permit Guidelines, the proposed building would meet the general intent of these guidelines,” it read. The report also noted that “it is unlikely that the subject site would be developed in the foreseeable future without the need for some variance(s). While a higher density mixed-use building would be more desirable for this site, the zoning permits the proposed use.”
Bank representatives also stressed various environmental aspects of the proposed building including a charging station for electric vehicles.
Plant, who motioned approval, said he was primarily “empathetic” towards the concerns of the community association, because they represent the people who live there. “That being said, what is in front of us is form and character, and parking,” he said. “And I think this is not an unreasonable ask. While I would have loved the world’s most innovative building there, while I would have loved four storeys of affordable housing on top of the two that are being put there, what is in front of us does fit.”
To stress the point, Plant noted that the site is currently empty. “There is nothing there,” he said. “This will be an improvement to have something there.” He said while the proposal is not necessarily what people might have wanted, Saanich needs to move forward sometimes, for it might lose the development. “Is it perfect? No. But the residents of the region would support it,” he said.