Updated with clarification on Jan. 2, 2018
A proposed redevelopment of a portion of Beacon Avenue in Sidney has one local politician wanting to take steps to ensure the public knows about it — before anyone thinks of blaming them for slipping the project under the radar.
Councillor Peter Wainwright noted at this week’s Sidney council committee of the whole meeting that the project — a proposed five-storey mixed-use building at the corner of Beacon and 4th Street — is of such significance that it will likely garner a lot of public response. However, because the proponent is only seeking zoning variances and not a full rezoning, it is not subject to a public hearing.
“It kind of looks like a major development to me,” said Wainwright. “But … there’s no public hearing because it’s not a rezoning amendment. We may very well have a lot of people unaware of this going on.”
He added that could lead to some people accusing council of “slipping this under the radar.”
Wainwright said he would like to see council avoid any perception of that, and suggested the project and it’s variance application be advertised twice in the Peninsula News Review. Such ads, he said would make it clear there’s no public hearing, but enable people to find out about it and to learn more.
“There should be absolutely no way of any perception that council was trying to slip this through.”
Wainwright also suggested this could be something council does for every five-or-six-storey multi-use development in town.
Mayor Steve Price said he was worried doing this — essentially changing council’s procedures policy “on the fly” — could put them at legal liability with developers. He said it’s a change to the process and could stop this development application to do a procedure change and then advertise it, adding time to the process.
Sidney’s Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said staff would have to look into that, noting that to do so would require council to make a change to the existing procedures bylaw. Wainwright said he thinks it can all be done without stopping the development process.
The rest of council, apart from the mayor, agreed.
What is being proposed for the corner is a five-storey, 35-residential unit and single commercial space building — being eyed early on for a restaurant. Architect Sylvia Bonet with Finlayson Bonet Architects, is seeking variances to the Town’s height limit as well as in the number of parking spaces — reducing the required 44 parking bays to 40.
The building will replace existing structures that are sitting upon contaminated soil. The level of contamination was not discussed this week, but its clean up will be part of the project.
Yet, its height raised issues for some councillors.
“I’m afraid this is going to be precedent setting,” said Coun. Barbara Fallot. “This is one of the first buildings on main street that’s going to be developed.”
She said she cannot support it at five stories. To the north of this site, a five-storey building is already under construction. It was given permission to go higher as it’s providing 54 units of affordable housing.
Price noted that while five or six stories are only allowed in the centre block area of downtown Sidney — mainly for attainable housing — “that doesn’t mean we can’t do it for any other buildings.”
The mayor added this is one of the first projects on Beacon Avenue and he doesn’t want it shut down over the height issue — something he said could shut down development in Sidney “for 20 years.”
“We want the town to grow, to have the family suites … we have to go up a bit. I encourage everyone to have an open mind.”
Price ended up opposing the recommendation to send the project to the next step in the approval process — but only over amendments made by his fellow councillors to ask the developers to re-design some aspects of the building. Those aspects include setting back the fourth and fifth stories further from 4th Street (it’s already significantly set back from Beacon) and adding more pedestrian cover along Beacon.
Fallot was the only other councillor opposed, but the proposal will now proceed to the Advisory Planning Commission review, following the changes asked-for by council this week.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that Mayor Price was worried that changing council’s procedures policy on the fly could put council at “risk” with developers. It has been changed to “legal liability” to better reflect his comments.