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Plans for mixed-use development in downtown Sidney back on

Council forwards Third Street development for more review in narrow 4-3 vote
Sidney council sent plans for this proposed four-storey development in the 9700-block of Third Avenue for additional review, even after previous parking concerns were dealt with. The design calls for a commercial ground floor and a large residence spread across three storeys. (Courtesy of MJM Architect Inc.)

A mixed-use development in downtown Sidney is getting another look, but not without some controversy over procedure.

At Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith voted with Couns. Sara Duncan, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright to send plans for a four-storey building in downtown Sidney to the municipality’s advisory planning comment for comment and review, subject to revisions. Couns. Barbara Fallot, Scott Garnett, Terri O’Keeffe were opposed.

Plans for the proposed development at 9700 Third St., an orphan-lot zoned downtown-commercial, at the intersection of Oakville Avenue call for an engineering office headquartering applicant Andrew Lowen’s company and a gallery on the ground and a residential unit spreading across three storeys on top of the commercial space.

While councillors meeting previously as committee-of-the-whole voted narrowly against sending the proposal for additional review, Lowen presented new information Monday.

The proposed living space in the upper three floors, designed for one residence, was reduced from 4,000 square feet to 2,500. Arrangements have also been made with a neighbouring church for additional parking, after the application requested a parking variance to reduce the number of required residential spots from two to one.

Not all members reacted well to the changes offered by Lowen, who had argued the delays are costing him money.

“The proposal (as first presented) was flawed and we are now looking at something that, from my perspective, is completely different,” said Garnett. “I’m sorry if it takes longer, but it is for all intents and purposes a different application.” As such, he added, council should have additional time to review the revised proposal.

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O’Keeffe questioned Lowen’s rationale that delays are costing him money. It is not Sidney’s fault that the applicant’s architect supplied faulty information, she said, noting that if Lowen was serious about moving the project forward, the revised plans would be before council, she said.

The situation reminded her of others where the town does a lot to change the normal process for someone who may have made a mistake, she said. “I am concerned about the message that we are sending to the communitye. Are we going to change our process to fast-track things like this?”

Rintoul acknowledged the changes need to be documented.

“But I suspect that council is comfortable with what is being suggested,” he said. “I certainly am. It’s a creative solution that came as part of Coun. Wainwright’s comments and this council will get an opportunity to see this again.” Both the applicant and the council will get a fair process at the end, he added.

McNeil-Smith struck a similar note. Council, he said, was not deciding whether to approve the application, only to send it for additional review.

“There is no suggestion that there is going to be a radical change to the plan,” added Wainwright.

Town chief administrative officer Randy Humble said earlier staff do not see revised plans, just a written statement from the applicant about having secured the parking. He also said this is not about fast-tracking the project. By securing the additional parking, the applicant no longer needs the parking variance (which had doomed the application during committee-of-the-whole) and the application becomes a straight development permit application.

“It’s following the process,” Humble said. “It’s just making it a little bit more efficacious for the proponent in moving it forward rather than coming back to council with a written statement that they plan to meet their parking obligation.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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