Esquimalt residents to have say on sewage plant land rezoning

Public hearing will have critical impact on progress of regional sewage treatment project

With the Capital Regional District hoping to break ground soon on a sewage treatment plant at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, residents are preparing to give council their thoughts on the required rezoning of the land.

Proposed bylaws relating to the treatment plant site will be discussed by residents at an 11th-hour public hearing scheduled for July 8 at Archie Browning Sports Centre.

Providing input on a decision that is pivotal to the progress of the Capital Region’s largest-ever infrastructure project – one mandated by the province and reinforced by new federal sewage treatment legislation – is clearly the most far-reaching opportunity ever for Esquimalt residents.

Mayor Barb Desjardins said the 2007 deliberations around whether to save or demolish the sports centre is the only issue that comes close to the significance of the upcoming discussion for her community.

On Monday, Esquimalt council voted 4-2 to send to public hearing a package of three bylaws related to the CRD’s application to rezone the McLoughlin Point land.

“There was a lot of negative sentiment at the (council) table,” Desjardins said, referring to arguments against advancing the application. “But people felt it was so important to hear from the public that they wanted to move it forward.”

The proposed bylaws lay out very specific ground rules for the use of the land, including design guidelines similar to those one might expect for a large commercial development.

One zoning change in particular Desjardins sees as having the most potential for a positive outcome recommends mixed uses on the site and encourages the CRD to incorporate such features as:

• a historical interpretation centre

• an eight-metre buffer from the high-water mark with an option for a public dock

• water features as public art included in the building’s design, and

• design and construction that mitigates environmental and human health impacts (odour and noise) and does not detract from the scenic entrance to Victoria harbour.

“That’s what that bylaw talks about, is ‘can you do something better for the Victoria region as an amenity?'” Desjardins said. “It makes us think outside the box.”

While residents and business owners have been fired up over potential plans for the CRD to use its property on Viewfield Road for a biosolids plant, the mayor stressed the public hearing will not address that issue.

Nick Kovacs, co-chair of the Esquimalt Residents Association and a member of the advisory planning commission that unanimously recommended rejecting the CRD’s application, said council made the right decision to open up the discussion.

“Part of the whole process of doing developments is it’s a process of give and take,” he said. “Everything the township is doing is legal … they’re giving the process a chance to work.”

He doesn’t envy councillors, who have the region’s eyes upon them and the CRD anxious to get going on the project.

“It sucks for the fact it’s a no-win scenario,” he said. “If they support the project, they don’t appear to be backing the Esquimalt residents’ viewpoints and concerns. If they don’t support it, they come across as NIMBYs.”

While she looks forward to hearing residents’ views, Desjardins is well aware of the pressure facing her council.

“At the end of the day, the CRD continues to remind us that should we not rezone it, they will go to the province,” she said. “Our community will welcome input from people around the region, but we will be listening to those from Esquimalt telling us their thoughts.”

The public hearing happens at 7 p.m. July 8. If more time is needed, the hearing will continue the next day.

Councillor plays politics, but achieves objective

Esquimalt Coun. Tim Morrison’s motion calling for council to send a letter asking CRD liquid waste management committee chair Denise Blackwell to resign received unanimous approval Monday.

The motion followed a published quote Blackwell made about knowing Esquimalt would “put up roadblocks” to rezoning the McLoughlin Point property to allow for a sewage treatment plant. Her comment came after Esquimalt’s advisory planning commission unanimously recommended against rezoning the property, on which zoning currently allows for bulk petroleum storage.

Morrison’s motion said Blackwell “has negatively and publicly maligned the Esquimalt Advisory Planning Commission’s independent and diligent deliberations and recommendation regarding the  McLoughlin Point rezoning application.”

ddescoteau@vicnews.com

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