The Town of Sidney signaled the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) that it needs to improve the design of a proposed warehouse near a residential neighbourhood and step up public engagement while stopping short of issuing a statement for or against the proposal.
Council Monday passed two main motions as well as a long list of amendments calling on VAA to make approval of the plans by York Realty to build a warehouse almost 23 metres tall subject to certain conditions. The first main motion recommends VAA do not approve the development “without first engaging WSANEC Leadership Council Society and providing opportunities for public input” with particular engagement on the residential neighbourhood along Galaran Road.
The second main motion recommends approval of the development be subject to nine conditions, including improvements to the local transportation infrastructure as well as the appearance of the building with the ninth condition calling for revisions to the eastern facade of the building “to reduce its impact” on the Galaran Road neighbourhood without making any specific recommendations.
Coun. Peter Wainwright, who drafted the main motions and conditions, said the wording gives York Realty scope to make improvements. “It’s a very clear message to the airport authority that they have to make some revisions to make this better for the neighbourhood,” he said. “This seems to be consistent with what is already being promised (from VAA), but flexible enough that it doesn’t require a prescriptive response.”
These motions are not binding on VAA (which has final approval authority) and stop short of a definitive statement, a position likely not sitting well with many critics of the proposal.
Likely anticipating this argument, Coun. Barbara Fallot said her first inclination was against the proposal based on its height, massing and traffic impact before considering the larger signal of such a vote.
“If we as a council decide to veto and just say ‘no’ to the application, we lose the opportunity to speak to what we can ask for,” she said. “If we had a veto voice in this, then I would say we should exercise it … but my sense is, we don’t have a veto voice.”
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe agreed. “We need to amplify the concerns of the Galaran Road residents and the community.”
Council passed the first main motion unanimously and the second by a vote of 6-1 with Coun. Scott Garnett opposed. He also opposed all of the nine amendments to the second motion while joining his colleagues in supporting motions to share council’s recommendations with the public and elected officials, review the document governing development referrals from VAA and schedule a meeting with Sidney’s VAA nominees to discuss recommendations.
Monday’s votes came after councillors heard from opponents as well as proponents of the project. Likely the most closely watched presentation came from Geoff Dickson, president and chief executive officer of the Victoria airport, who called the project the best possible use for the property.
He also promised engagement with the neighbourhood and additional improvements valued up to $250,000. He also signalled cooperation (without making any definitive financial commitments) around improving local transportation. This said, he told the public that the proposal won’t budge from its proposed height and massing.
Dickson also heard some less than friendly comments from opponents like Geoff Irwin who described the project as a “disaster waiting to happen” while accusing the VAA of ignoring the public as well as from some members of council with none more public than Garnett.
He told Dickson that he found a letter from the WSANEC Leadership Council Society accusing the VAA of failing to consult troubling and problematic.
He also told Dickson the VAA should have reached out to the neighbourhood before the proposal became public. “As you mentioned, they are an often overlooked neighbourhood and they had been for several years and this just adds to that feeling,” he said. “If somebody had reached out them and shown them some respect and some decency, a lot of this could have been avoided.”
Dickson acknowledged VAA could have handled its communication with the neighbourhood better and promised improvement.
“We thought it would be best to go to council first, and then follow up,” he said. Consultation with the WSANEC Leadership Council Society is evolving, he added, noting the VAA advised Tseycum First Nation of the project on March 9, and sought feedback.
“In terms of the relationship, we are always trying to do the right thing. It never seems like it is quite enough. But we value very much the friendship and partnership with Tseycum First Nation and WSANEC very much and we are going to continue to try to do better.”
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