Wednesday, June 08, 2016

18 Months since the municipal elections - where is this region headed?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Gorge Waterway - an environmental success story

I am going to start doing some Vlogging as well as posting on this blog.   Here is my first short piece

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Street = Orillia Street

I live on Orillia Street, a completely unremarkable street in the Tillicum Gorge neighbourhood of Saanich.   I have lived in the neighbourhood for 12 years and on this street for 30 months now.

The street:

  • is only 900 meters long, for 500 meters of that we have a sidewalk
  • has 59 houses on Orillia 
  • most of the houses were constructed between 1920 and 1940 but a number of them have been demolished to make way for much, much larger houses
  • the oldest house is from 1890 
  • has Tillicum elementary school on it
  • has one book box
  • there is no pedestrian light to get over Burnside even though the bus stop is at the corner of Burnside and Orillia.   There is no light either at Gorge and Orillia even though the main park in the area is across the Gorge from Orillia and the sidewalk on Orillia makes it a street people use to get to the Gorge park
  • there is no crosswalk at Orillia and Obed.   People have tried to paint one in since the crosswalk on Orillia and the one on Obed do not connect
  • Orillia is a short walk from shopping at Tillicum Mall and at the shopping centre at Gorge and Tillicum.   Pearkes Rec Centre and the Saanich Centennial Library are also a short walk away

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

26 years since the Eaton/Bay Centre opened and it has never been a good fit

Eaton's building facing Broad Street
In 1990 Caddilac Fairview opened a mall in downtown located where a dozen heritage buildings were located.    26 years later and the Bay Centre remains a blight on the city landscape.    Malls started to become a big thing by the mid 1960s and hit their heyday in the early 1980s.   By the time the Eaton (Bay) Centre was proposed the classic suburban mall was in decline.

Overall the Bay Centre mall harms the streetscape for blocks around

Issues with the Bay Centre

  • A very bland suburban mall - the stores are national chain stores and the interior has nothing that lets you know you are in Victoria.    The mall was supposed to have four floors for stores but never managed to rent out retail space on the fourth floor
  • The Bay Centre has no destination stores, it is not a draw for the general public.  It replaced a whole series of small downtown boutique type stores that did draw people 
  • The mall bisects Old Town.   Before the mall opened there was a natural flow of pedestrian traffic from the Inner Harbour to City Hall along Gordon and Broad Streets.   The loss of this path for the public means that on either side of the mall traffic is down from what it used to be.   You can see this impact clearly in how often store fronts on Broad street south or north of the mall are empty.
  • Government street between Fort and View Street is cold because of the huge empty facade of the mall on the east side of the street.    It is also the only block side on Government between the Inner Harbour and Pandora that has very little street level retail
  • View Street between Government and Broad has never regained the vibrancy it had - it is a very cold and dead.   
  • Victoria Old Town is small enough already, the loss of the heritage buildings reduced the tourism draw of the city.
  • The mall is very closed in and does not have clear sight lines to the outside.  Once inside the mall it is as of you are no longer in Victoria.   The mall not only is not drawing people downtown but it is keeping people away.
What we really need to have happen is for the City to develop a plan on how to deal with the failure that is the mall.    There has to be some way to improve the streets around the mall and to bring more people out onto the streets

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

What to do with Watkiss Way?

Watkiss way before the logging started
Over the last weeks we have seen the property on Watkiss way logged in perpetration for use for agriculture and this has upset a lot of people.   I can understand being upset because the property has been left to its own devices by the owners for a long time and it has become a defacto public natural area for everyone to enjoy but at the end of day it is privately owned agricultural land.

Some people are blaming the council for the cutting of the trees because they rejected  it as a site to consider for a sewage treatment plant.  People seem to think that because the owner did not get his site forwarded he is now retaliating to make council look bad by cutting all the trees but I do not think this is the case because the owner likely understood that there was very little chance of the lot being used.

In the early summer the owner site proposed the site to be used for a sewage treatment facility.   The proposal was brought to Saanich council for consideration to add to the mix of sites forwarded to the CRD but not accepted by them for a number of reasons:
Another view of the property before timber harvesting

  • Technically the site was less than ideal according to some engineering staff I spoke with, many other sites are better suited technically 
  • The site is on ALR lands and this does not allow for a sewage waste treatment facility.  Since the advent of the ALR only a very small amount of it has been removed in rural Saanich.  An application to remove seems unlikely to succeed.  
  • The property is not zoned for a sewage treatment.  The OCP and Local Area Plan clearly do not consider this property as one that is suited for an industrial use and rezoning it as such would be to completely ignore both plans.
  • It is outside of the Urban Containment Boundary.  Since the time of Hugh Curtis as mayor 50 years ago Saanich has worked hard to try and maintain the Urban Containment Boundary.  I can not think of a similar industrial like change outside of the UCB in Saanich.
If it had been forwarded to the CRD it strikes me as very unlikely this property would make the first cut let alone be the site chosen.   It is also not right to forward the site for consideration while it is still in the ALR.   If council were to have offered this as a location it could be argued they are de facto supporting the removal of the property from the ALR.   I do not believe there was any realistic chance that this property would ever been considered for the sewage treatment plant.

This the boundaries of the property in question
Map courtesy of Watkiss Way Park website
The other use proposed has been to make the Watkiss Way property a natural park.  This is appealing to many people but there are a couple of major impediments
  • The owner has to be willing to sell the property and I do not believe there is any interest on his part in doing.   Saanich has a long time policy of not using expropriation unless absolutely required such as widening a road right of way.
  • If the owner were willing to buy the property Saanich would have to come up with something on the order of $2,000,000 to $2,800,000 to purchase it.  The last major park purchase was Panama Flats in 2011 for $2,400,000.   Saanich could afford this but it is a significant expenditure for the municipality and Saanich needs to spend more on existing natural parks to help restore the ecosystems before buying more land
  • The property would no longer be available for agriculture.  Given the general concerns about food security, I have trouble seeing how a proposing a new park would generally fly with the public.   There are a number of natural parks right in the area already.
When it comes to the natural values of the area, I am not convinced that this property is most important one for Saanich to purchase.   The forest is a young second growth forest with trees that are barely worth harvesting.  There are numerous other ones in rural Saanich that are more important to protect.  Properties around Prospect Lake or Maltby Lake come to mind.  The Prospect Lake Golf Course is one such property and it would not be radically more expensive than Watkiss Way.

Before buying a property like this Saanich should have a clear idea on how much money it will use for park acquisition and where this should happen.   Pressure from one group while a property is in crisis is not a good reason to spend a lot of money.  The reality is that there is no way Saanich can consider every deserving property.   The way forward is a clear long term plan and policy of which properties to buy and how it will be funded.