Moving Colwood city hall among development ideas

Relocating Colwood municipal hall to a site near Colwood Corners could serve to “kick-start” private investment in the core, says a recently completed draft economic strategy for the municipality.

A move from Colwood’s current digs at 3300 Wishart Rd. would not necessarily be to the stalled Capital City Centre development, but could be somewhere in that area, said Mayor Carol Hamilton.

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“The point out of that is moving it to a more accessible and more central location would certainly be of benefit,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton described the current city hall site as “almost subterranean, low- level and out on the outskirts.”

About $70,470 of a $90,000 budget has been spent so far in producing the economic development plan. The 48-page draft strategy prepared by consultants Millier Dickinson Blais was endorsed by Colwood council last week.

The draft says Colwood is at a disadvantage when it comes to property-tax rates for residential light industry and business categories, which has had the effect of stalling investment. It recommends initiatives, which would cost money and which the new council will have to consider after the Nov. 15 election, Hamilton said.

“We knew the most inexpensive part was to get the study done and get that framework for future councils. Now we’re going to have to attack this, basically a bit at a time,” she said. “It’s just a draft. These are the recommendations coming out of the work that’s been done throughout the community and with the stakeholders within the community. So now [the next step] is how do we make this happen?”

The strategy suggests the community “establish the environment for change” and send a positive message to the development community by investing in streetscapes, sidewalks, water’s edge promenades, new park space and trails as well as in the downtown.

It recommends the municipality streamline planning approvals via such means as revitalization zones and pre-zoning of development sites.

It also suggests reducing the cost of development in some areas of the municipality through reduced parkland or parking requirements, or via more direct financial incentives such as tax exemptions or direct grants or loans.

The municipality should establish economic development as a core service and hire an economic development officer to manage a development strategy, it suggests.

Colwood’s natural setting and range of cultural assets have long been a draw for both residents and visitors, “but past successes may no longer be an indicator of future performance,” the report says.

“Colwood’s success as a community, however, has not resulted in a strong local economy. A high level of taxation coupled with the availability of vacant employment land has created an imbalance in property-assessment ratios and led many to describe Colwood as a bedroom community,” it says.

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