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Plan to transform area around Uptown, with towers up to 24 storeys, heads to public hearing

“Saanich has inherited an autocentric landscape and we’re looking forward to building our way out of that,” says Mayor Fred Haynes.

Buildings as high as 24 storeys for residential and commercial use, making highway corridors more people-oriented, and a public plaza — they are among ideas to transform the area around Uptown into Saanich’s city centre.

“Saanich has inherited an autocentric landscape and we’re looking forward to building our way out of that,” Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said of the ­municipality’s Uptown-Douglas Plan.

The overhaul, stretching over 20 to 30 years, could transform traffic-heavy Vernon Avenue into more of a neighbourhood road or a public plaza “as we look at a shift in transportation and car use,” Haynes said.

Saanich council is seeing support for the transformation, and has OK’d a public hearing for Feb. 15. (Details on how to participate, restricted by pandemic protocols, are at saanich.ca.)

Making room for more housing — primarily condominiums and ­townhouses — industrial activity and commercial enterprises will be achieved by building upwards, Haynes said. “We cannot expand the geography, so we’re increasing the height.”

The current maximum for the area is 18 storeys “but as the market shows interest they could go to 24,” Haynes said.

“It starts to shift the scales of ­transportation toward pedestrian-friendly, cycling-friendly and reducing car dependency, and at the same time enabling transit,” he said.

Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff said she likes a number of the plan’s ­initiatives, such as retaining older buildings and concentrating density where services are.

More bike lanes and wider sidewalks are also key features for her, she said.

Brownoff said a long-time concern in the area has been that Douglas Street, Carey Road, Ravine Way, Blanshard Street and Vernon Avenue are all­ provincial highways.

She would like to see negotiations aimed at making those routes more people-oriented,

Mount View Colquitz Community Association president Carol Hamill said she supports the plan and was part of the advisory committee.

“Now I just am really keen on it actually getting to public hearing and getting it passed,” she said. “Saanich needs to plan for a city centre.”

There is a lot that could be done to improve the area, Hamill said. “As it stands right now, there’s difficulty with the highways, because wherever you have highways it’s very difficult to build community.”

She said the plan could be “startling” for those who haven’t seen it before.

“It is definitely going to be tall ­buildings and if the landowners are willing to redevelop their property there could be a substantial increase in density.”

The changes the plan would bring could help in battling climate change, Hamill said. “The idea is to have ­housing where people work.”

Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association past-president John Schmuck, who was also on the advisory committee, said one of the things he was most vocal about was having a central space or “civic core” in the area, akin to Victoria’s Centennial Square.

His idea to achieve that is to move the cenotaph from next to the municipal building on Vernon Avenue to a more park-like setting next to Lochside Trail.

“The whole campus down there needs a rationalization and redevelopment,” Schmuck said. “So much if it is just allocated to parking spaces.”

He said most if not all of the people on the committee agreed with the idea of densification.

With the population growth it would create, there would need to be a school, Schmuck said.

The area includes Saanich Plaza, the Greater Victoria School District offices and the municipal campus, including the police and fire stations — as well as almost 2,300 metres of trails, including the Galloping Goose and Lochside.

It stretches from Tolmie Avenue in the south to Huxley Street to the north, Burnside Road East/Harriet Road to the west and Leslie Drive/Calumet Avenue/Rutledge Street to the east.

Haynes said community associations, homebuilders and not-for-profit housing groups have all been involved in creating the plan.

Housing was part of the initial Uptown plan, he said. There were 11- and eight-storey residential buildings put forward at Uptown at one time, but they did not go forward.

“We do have towers now proposed for Uptown next to Whole Foods Market,” he said. “The application is in.”

The planning area covers 155 hectares and had a population of 4,364 in 2016. Its projected population in 2038 is 9,000.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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