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$230M redevelopment plan for University Heights going to public hearing

A revised $230-million redevelopment plan for the University Heights shopping centre in Saanich will go to public hearing.

A revised $230-million redevelopment plan for the University Heights shopping centre in Saanich will go to public hearing.

The site, bordered by Shelbourne Street, McKenzie Avenue and Cedar Hill Road, is poised to be overhauled by developer Wesbild Holdings Ltd.

In forwarding the plan to a public hearing, Saanich council debated whether to have B.C. Hydro lines installed underground along Cedar Hill Road. The discussion ended with a tight vote to forgo underground lines in favour of community amenities.

The development plan has not been approved by council, which only votes on whether to support the entire ­proposal after a public hearing. No hearing date has been announced.

Wesbild has worked for years on replacing the existing shopping centre with a residential and commercial project, expected to take four years to construct. It would include nearly 600 residential units, some offered at 10 per cent below market rates. A grocery store, daycare, dog park, courtyard and play structures for children are also in the plan.

In August 2020, council voted to send Wesbild’s previous plan to public hearing, and asked staff to prepare a report before the hearing to outline options for electric-vehicle charging and to refine costs of putting B.C. Hydro lines underground.

Then, in September 2020, council voted to request that Wesbild develop a community-amenity plan matching the value of installing underground lines. The cost of going underground was estimated at $1 million.

The process stalled shortly afterwards when Wesbild found itself in a dispute with Home Depot, a tenant on the property. Home Depot wanted to add 10,000 square feet to its existing building. Wesbild said the company cited provisions in its lease that could limit redevelopment on the site. The parties subsequently reached an agreement and Wesbild returned to Saanich in May with a revised plan, which included a 10,000-square-foot expansion on the north side of Home Depot, where its garden centre has been located. A new garden centre would be built on the north side of the proposed additional space.

The new plan also includes minor changes to three buildings.

When council looked Sept. 27 at the issue of where the Cedar Hill Road power lines should be installed, Mayor Fred Haynes spoke in favour of having them above ground, arguing the amenity package would deliver the most benefits.

The amenities package, valued at the $1 million it would cost to put lines underground, includes electric-vehicle infrastructure in the parkade and 10 additional ground-level EV chargers.

Wesbild would boost its public-art contributions by $100,000, and $750,000 would go to charities helping children and families, and toward the district acquiring and improving green space.

Coun. Susan Brice argued in favour of putting the lines underground, saying the development will become a centrepiece in the Shelbourne Valley. “There are very few projects that are as big as this is. This is an enormous project.”

Area residents have expressed concern that density will be too high, there are too many people for too few parking spaces and traffic congestion will become a bigger problem.