Local MP Elizabeth May says the public has a right to know the identity of the company that plans to operate the massive warehouse proposed for Sidney on airport lands but residents who want to stop the project would probably have to go through the courts. (Black Press Media File)

Local MP Elizabeth May says the public has a right to know the identity of the company that plans to operate the massive warehouse proposed for Sidney on airport lands but residents who want to stop the project would probably have to go through the courts. (Black Press Media File)

MP Elizabeth May says public has right to know identity of Sidney warehouse operator

Residents wanting to stop the project would probably have to go through the courts, said May

Local MP Elizabeth May says it is imperative for the public to know the identity of the company that plans to operate a massive warehouse in Sidney on airport land as an important deadline for public feedback approaches.

“We certainly need to know who is going to be responsible for operating this distribution centre,” she said.

York Reality, the company planning to build the facility, has so far refused to disclose the identity of the “last-mile distribution company” that plans to lease the building, prompting speculations about the possible arrival of retail giant Amazon on the Saanich Peninsula.

“Quality of life and the quality of beautiful Sidney-by-the-Sea has something to do as well as with the small-business feel of the place and the ethical conduct of the companies within our community,” she said. “If it was Amazon, reputationally there would be concern. It could also be Purolator, which is part of Canada Post. There will be very different questions (depending on the nature of the company).”

May made these comments as her constituency office as well as the Town of Sidney continues to receive input on the project. The building has the equivalent gross area of more than six soccer fields and its proposed height (22.76 metres) would make it almost as tall as the Sidney Pier Hotel (22.85 metres). VAA and the developer are also receiving feedback at yorkproject@victoriaairport.com.

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The building with an estimated value in excess of $50 million lies within Sidney’s municipal boundaries but on land under the control of the Victoria Airport Authority. It — not the municipality — can approve or deny the project and officials have signalled their go-ahead. This said, residents can submit their feedback through the Town of Sidney, which has until May 11 to submit its comments under a referral process. The project will be back before councillors on May 10 and a number of groups have already positioned themselves. Supporters include the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, with outright opposition coming from the WSANEC Leadership Council Society. Other voices such as the Sidney Community Association and Save Our Sidney (SOS) have expressed concern about the project’s impact on traffic and nearby neighbours.

May said public feedback to her office runs against the project, but she can not discount that the project has supporters in light of its economic benefits.

May admits she has no power to stop the project. “Neither does the minister of transportation, neither does the prime minister,” she said. Airport authorities are autonomous, she added.

“If citizens want to stop the project, it would probably involve court action,” she said. “There is no minister at the federal level who is going to be giving a permit for this. It falls outside direct-line responsibility of any minister federally.”

The “only residual authority” available to the minister of transportation concerns airport safety, but it is very unlikely that VAA would have submitted a proposal that would be unsafe. The public heard earlier that VAA has signed off on the height.

The Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce said the proposal would bring new jobs to the region, while creating new revenues for the Town of Sidney and VAA, while acknowledging that the project would add to the already existing traffic challenges in the area and proposing various remedies.

The Sidney Community Association said the proposed location is not appropriate for a facility of that size. “Particular, the massing of this building will overshadow the Galaran neighbourhood, with a detrimental influence on the families living there,” said Steve Duck, president. “We find it regrettable the Town of Sidney has not taken a stronger position on a project that obviously has a major negative impact on the residents of West Sidney,” he added later.

The building’s impact on traffic and the neighbourhood also loom large in the circulating comments among the membership of Save Our Sidney (SOS), with many drawing parallels to the proposed then abandoned Gateway Project. “The huge increase in traffic would seem to be the main concern for downtown Sidney,” said Richard Talbot, group founder and president. “This development must, at last, include the redevelopment of the intersection of Beacon and Pat Bay Highway or downtown will be throttled.”

Wendy Riggs, who co-owns MB Labratories near the proposed site, said the area lacks the infrastructure to accommodate a facility of that size and fears its impact on downtown merchants.

Outright opposition to the project comes from the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council Society. It expressed “great disappointment” that VAA did not communicate with the council which found out about the project through the media and charges VAA with failure to consult under existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

“W̱SÁNEĆ people have not been consulted, the VAA has not taken our rights or interests into account, and this is yet another large-scale project on W̱SÁNEĆ lands that does not provide benefits to W̱SÁNEĆ people,” it reads.

May said this failure to consult local First Nations is “distressing.” She also laments the absence of a mandatory environmental review. “It’s entirely discretionary, as opposed to required,” she said.


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com