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Questions remain, but Saanich ops yard redevelopment feasibility study continues

Council concerned uncertainties, lack of public housing options in business case
Initial rendering of a proposed redevelopment of the District of Saanich operations yard at Borden Street (lower right) and McKenzie Avenue. (Courtesy District of Saanich)

Unanswered questions remain about the proposed redevelopment of Saanich’s operations centre at Borden Street and McKenzie Avenue.

Told the district cannot achieve the optimum use for the property and reduce financial risk to the municipality without partnering with the private sector, council set aside concerns around the uncertainties of non-public use of the property and voted to have staff continue its feasibility study for the massive project.

Staff has estimated the budget for the redevelopment to range between $183 million and $212 million, and the borrowing plan will require public approval. The current schedule outline proposes construction to start no earlier than 2026.

At the June 13 council meeting, following a business case presentation, councillors voiced uneasiness with the seeming lack of detail around private-sector involvement. One conceptual illustration showed two multi-storey buildings on the site and a large above-ground parking area, although there was brief discussion about underground parking.

The absence of a public housing consideration in the business case also drew comments.

“I’m not opposed to going to the private sector in this context given that Saanich cannot do this on its own, but what I didn’t hear enough was the ability for affordability,” said Coun. Colin Plant, more strongly echoing a sentiment shared earlier by Coun. Zac de Vries. “I want a public good to come out of this as well as the lowest possible financing for the municipality.”

Director of engineering and acting administrator Harley Machielse said housing providers such as Capital Region Housing Corporation or others could wind up operating on site, but determining options for constructing buildings needs to be sorted out first.

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While the project primarily aims to create a more efficient and safer operations environment for Saanich staff, while improving public-facing elements such as the yard waste drop-off, the district would retain ownership of all property. The leasing of air parcels would give the district a revenue stream while developers would cover the costs of construction and own their buildings, the presentation stated.

Council heard staff consulted a couple of developers for the business case to get a sense of what might be achievable in a multi-use site, but a full market sounding is planned to gain a more clear picture.

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau asked whether the required rezoning to place taller buildings on site and the addressing of on-site parking for a shared site should happen first to give private-sector partners more certainty.

Machielse said such elements could be addressed in a site master plan and help remove some of the risk for potential investors.

In the end, council approved the staff recommendation to continue the development and realization of the project on various fronts. Those include such actions as further testing the market for private investment interest, defining all operational needs for the property as well as outside opportunities to create a thorough financial analysis, creating a draft master site plan and having a robust public engagement and consultation process.

Completing those elements and others is scheduled to take at least two years.

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