EDITOR’S NOTE: This opinion piece by Mr Anderson does not necessarily reflect the position of Grumpy Taxpayer$, and is meant for discussion purposes.
BY JAMES D. ANDERSON
The draft Uptown-Douglas Plan will go to Saanich Council on August 10. This glossy 169 pg document with dozens of sketches of “streetscapes’ will fool and distract you from how inappropriate this is in terms of the present and future role of “Downtown Saanich.”
The UDP is not your usual local area plan (LAP) where the predominate land use is single family residential. . The interests of approx. 3,800 adjacent residents are dwarfed by the fact the Corridor is the commercial /business core of Saanich. Daily traffic of 130,000 and 30,000 Transit rides flows along Douglas, Burnside and Blanshard. The Saanich portion of the “corridor” supports not housing but instead over 650 business enterprises and 2 major retail centres; Uptown and Mayfair. It provides 9,500 jobs and is the major municipal business tax base supported by thousands of daily customers; the majority of whom arrive by personal vehicles. In simple terms the UDC serves as destination not a home!
I do acknowledge that three positive structural big moves are underway in the “Corridor; bus lanes on Douglas, enhanced housing in the Nigel valley and a transit exchange. But, these initiatives were approved independently of the UDC plan process. As presented the Plan simply ignores consideration of economic, employment and taxation implications.
Excerpts from the UDP confirm my concerns. Page 4 reads ” This direction seeks to fundamentally change the character of the area to create a vibrant, livable centre and balance mobility network where walking, cycling and public transit are inviting and accessible to all.”
Clearly the plan places priority to emphasize the “public realm framework” rather than to acknowledge and feature the role dominated by private property and business enterprises critical to employment, investment and tax revenue. Site Servicing, Access and Parking …”.locate operational activities such as loading, parking , servicing, utilities, storage and parking away from the public realm” rather than to maintain vehicle access critical to business.
Worse; on pg.21-22 the document presents Key Plan Directions; particularly #1, 5 and 7..”Put pedestrian first; Lead growth with residential and Transform Oak Street into a “neighborhood’ street” And on page 52 the plan designates Douglas Street become a corridor with 12 story buildings on both sides of the street.
The plan will constrain regional traffic flows and frustrate access by thousands of customers and delivery vehicles critical to successful business. This ignores the massive parkades at Uptown and Mayfair were not built for pedestrians. Second it force transition of area from “employment zone” for many commercial and light industrial worker; only retail and office employment will remain.
How did this happen? In simple terms the Advisory Committee process over two years was co-opted by residents who do not actually live in the DUC but on the periphery of the study area.! The UDC plan represents their interests rather than stakeholders.
On page 10 the planners identify 3 significant economic characteristics of the neighborhood and the fact that of 40% of the area is commercial zoning. Neither business, employees or their customers recognize there is a municipal boundary along Tolmie it appears the Saanich Planners simply ignored the fact that in 2018 City of Victoria completed their Burnside-Gorge Plan. That plan clearly recognizes the need to preserve and enhance opportunities for their 1,400 business/commercial enterprises that support over 14,000 jobs and designates this as their “employment areas”.
The draft UDP misrepresents the realities of land use identified in their own Baseline Report of 2017. Both Saanich and Victoria are fortunate that such a wide variety of commercial business and light industrial services are readily available to urban residents, located near the urban core and should be retained. Somehow the plan simply ignores synergistic impact of the twin anchors of Uptown and Mayfair.
Clearly there are opportunities to enhance the plan area for those residents adjacent to the Corridor (particularly pedestrian access across Douglas and Blanshard). But these should be secondary objectives of the plan. Employees outnumber residents 3-1.
Strangely; the plan also omits any reference to future of the “Saanich banana”; 2 large blocks of an underutilized strip mall that provides significant opportunity for urban renewal and mixed use. Other than the School District site, the plan virtually ignores site specific opportunities for creative re-development. The draft UDC plan has gone off track and proposes a total transformation of the land use patterns of this area. Will business enterprises survive with incentive to invest in upgrades?
The inevitable result will be that within a decade, a major expansion of housing and encroachment into the industrial/commercial land use zones these small business enterprises will simply be squeezed out. Langford will be pleased to welcome them.
The Plan should be revised to reflect 3 paramount objectives;
– protect and enhance the UDC as critical multi modal transportation “corridor” to serve as both key regional arterial and to service the retail commercial enterprises..
– protect and enhance the viability of the small business and recognize the retail, industrial/commercial sector as critical element of our economy, employment and tax base.
-identify opportunities for creative mixed use re-development of selected parcels consistent with the above objectives.
Where are the voices of the business community to ensure their own future?? The Planning and Transportation Advisory Committee is derelict in its duties if it recommends Council accept the draft UDP in its present form.
Saanich council OKs plan to transform Uptown area, but wants more information, Times Colonist, Aug. 12, 2020.
Saanich council seeks more information after hearing Uptown-Douglas plan, Victoria News, Aug. 11, 2020.
Saanich councillors ponder plan to transform Uptown-Douglas into District’s core, Times Colonist, Aug. 9, 2020.
Uptown-Douglas Plan comes to council for consideration, Saanich News, Aug. 8, 2020.