Gordon Head and Cadboro Bay residents weren't buying what the University of Victoria was trying to sell them.
No matter how gussied up a seven-level concrete parking garage is, no matter how much good the attached sports complex will provide, it's still a seven-level, 505-stall parkade on a single-lane main road.
At an open house held Thursday night, UVic held public consultation on the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities, after Saanich council, in August, requested they do better public consultation.
"We want to find out what this project's all about, what the justification of the parking garage is and what will be the traffic impact on the neighbourhood," said Cadboro Bay resident Christine McClarnon.
"We want to hear directly from UVic what they have planned and whether our fears are warranted."
The information directly from UVic is that the plans haven't changed since August. The size, scope and location of the parking garage is the same, the only difference now is that UVic has three options on the table to soften the look of the parkade.
The first option involves a blank facade that could potentially feature a natural graphic or be used to hang banners; the second is to add vines hanging down the concrete walls, and the third is for a "fin wall" of vertical panels that would hide the vehicles.
But it wasn't so much the visual impact residents spoke out about. Their concerns surround the traffic implications that will result from concentrating an additional 505 cars in an area that's already rampant with traffic issues.
"We're going to be sandwiched in. We're not going to be able to get out of our community," said Sharon Jack, who lives in Cadboro Bay.
"We're the people who live here, who have lived here … and all this is focused on is the university's needs, while it's us who'll take a lot of the hit."
Saanich engineer Jamie Rose says upgrades are coming in 2012 to McKenzie Avenue – with or without a parking garage going in next door – between Finnerty and McGill roads.
The width of the road will be nearly doubled in size to accommodate new bike lanes and a landscape median. The UVic entrance on Gabriola will remain a pedestrian controller crosswalk, while the traffic light at Finnerty will become a roundabout. If the parkade is approved, a new traffic light will be installed at its would-be entrance between McGill and Gabriola.
Neil Connelly, director of campus planning and sustainability, said a traffic impact assessment has been done and it was determined that the infrastructure could handle the new traffic.
"The expected peak demand for (the Centre for Athletics, Research and Special Abilities) is 250 spaces," reads the assessment, prepared by Boulevard Transportation, acknowledging the number is less than half the 505 stalls proposed.
However what's not acknowledged, as neighbours pointed out Thursday, is UVic is also attempting to rezone the six-hectare Queenswood property less than two kilometres away for institutional use.
In April, Connelly told the News Boulevard Transportation concluded that tripling the existing floor space on the site (from 63,000 sq. feet to 191,000 sq. feet) wouldn't result in a significant impact on traffic.
On Thursday, he said the proposed rezoning of Queenswood was not taken into consideration in the new traffic impact assessment because there are "no specific plans" for that site. There are vague plans, however, that include such things as installing student housing at Queenswood.
"There are huge implications in the surrounding neighbourhood (in regards to) traffic flow from both these projects," McLarnon said. "Everything that we have been doing to preserve as much of a natural environment as possible within an urban setting, it seems like all our efforts have been in vein when an institution comes in, and with the stroke of a pen, can change that without really acknowledging those of us who live around here."
The university has lost hundreds of parking stalls in recent years as buildings have been constructed on existing lots. As well, since 2003 UVic has received a parking variance for an estimated 1,000 stalls less than what's required by Saanich bylaws, Connelly said.
The new centre and parkade would be built on an existing 234-stall lot, so only 271 stalls are considered "new."
Connelly said the university will gather and entertain all public feedback, with the goal of being back before Saanich council in October.