Victoria widening scrutiny of waterfront development

In what could be a precedent-setting move, Victoria will widen the net of those to be notified when there are rezoning or development applications along the Gorge Waterway, the Selkirk Waterfront and the Upper Harbour.

Councillors agreed last week to a recommendation by Coun. Ben Isitt to include the Gorge Waterway Initiative as a referral group to be contacted for comment when such applications are made, even though some councillors cautioned the move could set a precedent.

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As it now stands, the city notifies nearby property owners and also asks for comment from the affected community association’s land-use committee when an application is made.

Coun. Marianne Alto said she supported the initiative, but warned that by approving it, council was opening the door to other bodies that may want input into land-use discussions in other neighbourhoods.

“We’re setting a precedent here which we have to, I think, be prepared to explore and expect to be challenged on, by a number of other organizations,” Alto said.

For example, she said, there long has been discussion within the Downtown Victoria Business Association about that organization having input into downtown land applications even they don’t represent residents.

“But they do represent a significant interest in this particular neighbourhood,” she said. “There’s always been an interest expressed by the DVBA about whether or not it’s possible for them to become, like this is proposing, a group to which applications are referred for comment.”

Coun. Pam Madoff said she, too, was supportive but “looked at it with caution.”

She recalled a time when there had been a suggestion that a waterfront residents’ association be formed. “I remember at the time speaking very strongly against that because basically what it was going to be doing was taking away the waterfront lands from the neighbourhoods they traditionally resided in.”

She said she supported the Gorge Waterway Initiative request because it wasn’t “elevating the status of this organization to a land-use body or to a community association body.”

“To me, it’s about communication more than anything. Anybody can come and comment on land use. It’s how they get that information,” Madoff said.

Isitt said it’s conceivable there could be some “minor push back” against the move.

“Sometimes it creates a bit of friction when there’s a sharing of roles. But this is very clear that the [community association land-use committee] still is the consultative neighbourhood body and this is just one organization with particular expertise that would have an opportunity to comment,” Isitt said.

The Gorge Waterway Initiative is concerned with protecting the Gorge, Portage Inlet and the surrounding watersheds. Its members include non-governmental and landowner organizations and local governments.

Its community members include groups such as the Burnside Gorge Community Association, Colquitz Salmonid Stewardship and Education Society, Esquimalt Residents Association, Habitat Acquisition Trust, Portage Inlet Protection Society, Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club, Friends of Swan Creek Watershed and World Fisheries Trust.

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