Saanich council has voted to send an amended plan for University Heights to a public hearing.
Part of the rezoning and development permit application discussed at council’s special meeting Sept. 27 includes a contribution from developer Wesbild of $750,000 for children and families’ charities and greenspace acquisition in Saanich, $100,000 for public art onsite and $150,000 more for electric vehicle infrastructure – a package worth approximately the same as the cost of moving power lines underground for the project.
The 5-4 vote saw Couns. Judy Brownoff, Susan Brice, Colin Plant and Nathalie Chambers opposed.
Among three options discussed in a staff report for ways to move forward, one was heavily recommended by staff and would see Wesbild complete underground power line work around the site, between McKenzie Avenue and Arrow Road.
The planting of boulevard trees along Cedar Hill Road as a buffer between a proposed retaining wall also formed part of that option.
Coun. Susan Brice spoke passionately in support of the recommended option one at the meeting.
“There are very few projects that are as big as this – this is an enormous project fronting on three roads, this is going to be a centrepiece for the whole Shelbourne valley,” said Option two called for Wesbild to contribute $1 million to Saanich for the work, a move that would have the potential for the district to extend undergrounding of power lines further along Cedar Hill Road. Staff did not support this option, as it would require further planning and management by engineering staff, the report said.
Option three was the one ultimately approved by council, and included contributions from Wesbild to increase EV charging accessibility and add the public art element. The company is also required to specify the recipients of the charitable donation before the upcoming public hearing.
The University Heights redevelopment project has been under review by the District of Saanich council since August 2020.
The approval process has moved through many stages of discussion and planning – an expansion to The Home Depot store being one of the most notable elements of this project.
The proposal by Wesbild was paused in the fall of 2020 for further negotiations, since The Home Depot’s current lease would prevent construction on a portion of their site, as well as other issues that needed addressing, including the responsibility for undergrounding power lines.
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