This rendering shows the proposed development for the Cordova Bay Plaza. Saanich council will consider the proposal at yet-to-be determined date. Submitted

Saanich set to consider controversial Cordova Bay development

Revised proposal retains basic structure and remains opposed by some members of community

A spokesperson for the company planning to redevelop Cordova Bay Plaza says he is confident that the project will go ahead as Saanich prepares to receive a revised version of the proposed development this week.

“We are quite confident that we have the requirements of Saanich’s development permit guidelines,” said Alan Lowe of Alan Lowe Architect Inc. “And we are pretty confident the majority of the community supports this.”

Lowe made these comments as Saanich prepares to receive revised plans for the redevelopment of Cordova Bay Plaza into Cordova Bay Village and after an open house last week where the developers presented their revised proposal to an audience of some 200 people at Claremont Ridge Theatre.

The proposal promises to revive what has been the neighbourhood’s historical hub of commercial activity. In the span months, it has turned into a “ghost town” following the closure of its key keystone tenant, Tru Value. A number of other stores have also closed and the plaza will be completely one empty once Scotiabank closes.

Revised plans presented last week retain the broad strokes of the plan presented earlier: a mixed-use development spread across three four-storey buildings. Central elements include 91 condominium units, commercial space, and a grocery store of 17,000 square-feet. This said, the revised proposal doubles the set-backs off Cordova Bay Road and the project has a more terraced appearance.

Lowe said the majority of the people who attended the open house agreed with these improvements, adding some critics will continue to oppose the project unless it drops to two from four storeys.

Colin Millard of Cordova Bay Village Vision Group is one of those critics. “I can say that not a lot has changed since the previous submission,” he said. “Some things have changed, which are an improvement. We certainly acknowledge that.” But the proposal continues to contradict the Official Community Plan, he said.

Critics have consistently argued that the project would undermine the “village-like character” of Cordova Bay as the OCP prescribes it in calling for a development that would be two rather four storeys tall. Developers, meanwhile, have argued that their proposal conforms with permissible zoning for the area.

Plans for the redevelopment of Cordova Bay Plaza coincide with two other active development proposals in the area.

They include plans for a 385-unit development by Aragon on the former Trio gravel quarry of 773 Cordova Bay Road that would lead to the loss of the 77-year-old Cordova Bay Community Club and plans for a four-storey, 25-unit condo project on Doumac Avenue that currently awaits a new public hearing date.

These developments including the Cordova Bay Village development have caused considerable debate among area residents, as concerns about traffic and a changing neighbourhood character compete against concerns about economic decline.

Millard said his group is not against development per se. “We are not NIMBY people,” he said. “That’s not the case,” he said. While the area needs development, Cordova Bay cannot start to resemble Downtown Victoria with its glass facade, he said.

This apparent tension also appears in the results of an unscientific survey by Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs (CBA) following last week’s open house.

Attendees filled out 150 surveys, but did not answer all questions. Fifty-five per cent said they approved of the proposed development, 33 per cent opposed it, with 13 per cent. But a closer study of the survey suggests that practical concerns temper this support. Forty-five per cent said they approved of the presented design, while 41 per cent opposed it, with 14 per cent neutral. Developers, in other words, still need to convince some, who theoretically support the project. Other findings underscore this point. While forty-four per cent said they found the massings of the two buildings along Cordova Bay Road acceptable, 38 per cent opposed it, with 17 per cent neutral.

“If you look at those numbers, there is a definitely a green light [for the project], with some reservations,” said Tim Kane, first vice-president of the CBA.

“There are some issues to be resolved,” he said. Kane however pointed out that the survey shows the community’s changed attitude towards the project, when compared to earlier this year.

Kane said the process around Cordova Bay Village has actually helped in some ways to unify the community.

The role of the CBA is to hear from a wide range of people. “Can a significant project like this unite everyone?” he said. “I wish it can.”

But the revised proposal moves things in the right direction. The plans have come a long way from those first presented, he said. Most of the concerns from residents revolve around traffic, said Kane. The Cordova Bay Plaza development coupled with the other developments will add some 500 housing units to the neighourhood, he said. If each of those units houses at least two people, that adds up to 1,000 additional residents, he said.

It is not clear yet when council will consider the development. “We are hoping to come to council as soon as possible,” said Lowe.

The development does not require a formal public hearing since the application neither asks for zoning changes nor variances. This means that residents will have fewer opportunities to offer comment. Millard however said his group is already preparing ahead.

“We will get our word out at [council’s] committee of the whole,” he said.

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Tim Kane, first vice-president of the Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs, says the results of a CBA survey show support for the re-development of Cordova Bay Plaza has risen following revisions by the developers.

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