The B.C. government is pushing ahead with plans to build a regional handyDART facility in View Royal over the objections of residents and local government, Mayor David Screech said Friday.
View Royal council rejected the facility last year amid community concerns about noise, traffic, diesel fumes and potential environmental impacts to Craigflower Creek, which runs alongside the 3.2-hectare property at 2401 Burnside Rd. West.
“I’ve been on council a long time and I was taken aback by the level of concern from the residents,” Screech said in an interview.
A View Royal staff report says council followed up with a resolution that made clear its intention to purchase the property from the province and retain it as a park.
Screech said council was prepared to reconsider its decision if B.C. Transit was able to reach out to local residents, address their concerns and get them onside.
But he said that never happened. Instead, he received a letter from Transportation Minister Claire Trevena in June notifying him that the government planned to designate the property as arterial highway — a move that bypasses municipal zoning processes.
Trevena argued in the letter that the handyDART facility was a critical step in supporting transit growth in the region.
“With the announced funding support of the federal and provincial governments for transit infrastructure, this is an opportune time to build these essential facilities, which will support thousands of handyDART riders and millions of conventional transit trips per year,” she wrote.
Screech said in an interview that he was taken aback by Trevena’s letter, which has not been released before now while the town sought a legal opinion and met with provincial officials behind the scenes.
The latest developments will be discussed at an open council meeting next week.
“There was never any attempt to see if the residents’ concerns could be addressed,” he said of province. “They really haven’t gone through a full rezoning. It never went to public hearing. So they haven’t really given the municipal process the opportunity to work.
“In recent history I cannot think of a time when the province has decided to overrule a local government on land use. So it’s an extremely unusual move on their part and it’s going to create a lot of attention, I think, because obviously local governments all over are going to be worried about the precedent that it’s setting.”
Trevena was unavailable for an interview Friday, and issued a statement that did not address the issue of her ministry bypassing View Royal’s zoning process.
The statement said the province has owned the property at Watkiss Way and Burnside Road since the 1990s, and that the new facility is essential to allow B.C. Transit to increase its fleet and meet rising demand for transit in Greater Victoria.
“Once the facility is built, the existing handyDART facility on Glanford Avenue will be relocated to the View Royal location, and the Glanford facility will be expanded to become another transit centre for its conventional fleet — with the other two facilities being in Langford and Victoria,” Trevena said.
“B.C. Transit facilities within Greater Victoria are at capacity. If we do nothing there will be a direct impact on people who live and work in Greater Victoria who rely on public transit because Transit won’t be able to implement its planned expansion.”
Screech said the town has few options other than to negotiate payments, improvements and amenities for the town.
“At the end of the day, if the province decides to use that power, their power supersedes local government zoning,” he said.
He predicted a strong backlash from residents. “I think they’re going to be extremely angry and upset about it. I mean, I think a lot of people understand that handyDART is obviously a needed facility. But there’s a lot of people who think that’s not the right location for it.”
B.C. Transit did not make anyone available to comment on the decision, but released a statement noting that the Burnside property is centrally located and allows connections to all points in Greater Victoria.
“Many care homes have moved to Langford and other areas; therefore, this location will help us to serve our customers in a more efficient manner,” the statement said.
B.C. Transit said it will release more project details in the coming weeks.
The agency describes handyDART as a door-to-door service for people with permanent or temporary disabilities that prevent them from using fixed-route transit without assistance from another person.