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Sidney businesses troubled by population drop

Feb 09 2012

The drop in Sidney's population of 1.2 per cent since the 2006 census — from 11,315 to 11,178 — doesn't sound like much.

But a downward trend is troubling for Sidney businesses who draw workers from Langford because they earn good salaries but still can't afford Sidney housing prices, where single family homes start above $300,000.

"One of the concerns we have is the long-term sustainability of a town where property prices are so high and it's so difficult to get a place to live — how long will it be before we cannot get employees to provide our service industry with the workers they require?" said Mayor Larry Cross.

The demographics of Sidney lean toward seniors who flock there because the land is flat, the seaside locale beautiful and there are transit options.

Young families can find it difficult to get affordable housing in the community where they work, and that's something the mayor and council would like to change. "And we'd love to have [affordable housing] close enough so they don't have to drive, they can walk," Cross said.

Sidney is built out, and there are proposed changes to the zoning bylaw before council that could open up secondary suites, row housing and other options.

Chief administrative officer Randy Humble predicts the community will see an influx of retiring baby-boomers from across Canada. "We're a safe community so we're desirable for a lot of reasons," said Humble.

There's no problem attracting seniors but there are significant obstacles to attracting younger people, such as those going to Langford, he said.

"The cost of housing [in Langford] is probably close to 25 to 30 per cent below what it is in Sidney," Humble said.

"We're five square kilometres. We don't have the opportunity for creating subdivisions."

The answer is finding ways for developers to build new housing types, such as fee-simple row houses where dwellers are joined by a common wall.

"It looks like a townhouse but it's not a strata," said Humble.

Another option is legalizing secondary suites, such as standalone garages on laneways. Secondary suites could be allowed in townhouses, he said.

John Bruce, a real estate agent with DFH Real Estate, has lived in Sidney since 1963 when it was a village of 2,300 people.

"I think a large part of the growth we have in Sidney is people recognizing it as a wonderful little community to be involved in," Bruce said.

One-level homes within a few blocks of Beacon Avenue sell quickly he said. "That's what people want, they want to be able to walk around the community and be part of it."

But that convenience comes with a hefty price-tag, Bruce said.

A 16-unit condominium developed on Bevan at Fourth Street has 10 units sold of the 16 available, and the price per square foot is between $375 and $400.

Doug Taylor, the executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said he's working with the manufacturing sector and high-tech companies to solve the housing issue.

"There is a push on and the chamber is looking at some of these zoning bylaws and some of the land that's available, and where we can put up good residential housing," said Taylor.

It's a vicious circle, Taylor said, with economic growth prompting companies to hire more workers but high land prices make it impossible for these workers to live where they work. Affordable housing can be built in Sidney, but it will take time, he said.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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