Although it’s early in the planning stages, a mixed-use retail development that could be built in Sooke is just what the district’s business community needs, according to the head of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce.
Britt Santowski said the proposed development, being considered for the 6700-block of Eustace Road and extending toward West Coast Road, is “much needed” by the community.
“We were very enthusiastic when they contacted us,” said Santowski, noting the district has more than 700 licensed businesses, most of them “invisible” as they operate out of homes or online.
“Our town core runs from a traffic circle to a traffic light, so when these businesses grow, they have nowhere to go,” she said. “The more space we can provide in town, the better.”
Santowski said without added office and commercial space, businesses are likely to consider relocating to other parts of the region.
“We need to not just nurture new businesses and start-ups but the businesses we have and enable them to grow in our town.”
Development website Citified Victoria suggests the project, being proposed by Mid America Venture Capital, could provide as much as 156,000 square feet of commercial and office space.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said the district could certainly use the square footage.
“Business owners are challenged to find space right now — that’s a problem that will only grow,” she said, noting the district has been on a significant growth spurt over the last several years with new residential development on the rise in the area.
According to B.C. Stats, Sooke’s population grew by 3.5 per cent to just over 15,000 between 2019 and 2020, and was outpaced only by Langford, which grew by 4.9 per cent in that same period.
Tait said this kind of project aligns well with the district’s goals of increasing employment in Sooke at all levels to reduce reliance on commuting, get more vehicles off the highway and have more people living, working and playing in the area.
Norm McInnis, Sooke’s chief administrative officer, said the district is just starting to look at its economic development strategy but it already understands creating jobs in Sooke would “tick off a whole lot of items in our strategic plan.”
He said one of the goals is to spur on more non-residential growth to try and keep pace with the boom in residential development in the area.
McInnis said at this point, the Eustace Road project is still in the early stages — there was a public meeting to introduce the project in early March, but the proponents have yet to apply for rezoning of the vacant property.
McInnis said he couldn’t give a timeline for a start to the project, but suggested the proponents appear highly motivated to get to work.
The group behind the project did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Santowski said she is hoping the new project, if it gets off the ground, will include a business incubator.
“We have so many independent entrepreneurs just looking for a place to network, connect and brainstorm with other operators,” she said.
Tait acknowledged this latest development proposal is another indication the district is no longer a well-kept secret, and said as the district grows, council’s role will be to find the right balance in order not to overtax its existing infrastructure, provide a broader tax base with more commercial development and ensure amenities keep up with demand.
“It’s an exciting time, but a challenging time,” she said.