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Big-box stores provide weighty issue for council

Feb 12 2012

A key decision on the future of big-box stores in Central Saanich will go before council Monday.

Politicians are to decide if they want to proceed with a bylaw amendment that would remove a restriction on maximum store size in the Keating Cross Road area - essentially opening the area up for big-box stores.

Currently, the municipality's official community plan - the document that outlines where and how development happens - bans single-use stores larger than 5,000 square metres. That effectively shuts out so-called "big box" stores from the municipality.

In August, former councillor Ron Kubek brought forward the motion to remove the restriction, saying Central Saanich should remove "any impediment to the development of any large parcels. We want to encourage businesses to look at Central Saanich rather than other municipalities."

The council disagreed on the motion, but the majority voted in favour of asking staff to draft a new bylaw removing the size restriction. The proposed amendment is before council Monday.

It will be the first time that the council, elected in November, deals with what will be a controversial bylaw.

Kubek, who championed the bylaw, did not run for re-election. Neither did former mayor Jack Mar, who voted in favour of the bylaw change.

Big-box stores and Central Saanich have been in the news. The Tsawout First Nation wants to build a 650,000-square-foot shopping centre on land it owns at the corner of the Pat Bay Highway and Jesken Road, midway between the Island View and Mt. Newton intersections.

The proposed development would have big-box stores, although neither Tsawout or development representatives would confirm which ones. A second Costco for the region has long been rumoured.

Municipal bylaws do not apply on First Nations land so, even if the bylaw is changed, it would have little impact on the Tsawout proposal.

The key hold-up to that development is access from the Pat Bay Highway. The developers say they are working with the provincial Ministry of Transportation on the issue.

In the meantime, the Central Saanich bylaw has been working its way through consultations as happens with all bylaw amendments.

Municipal planning staff do not recommend the proposed amendment, saying: "Research has shown that the effects of large retail (i.e. big-box stores) on a community can be significant and long-term, impacting its natural, physical, social and economic character."

But planners also say those negative effects can be managed.

If the council votes to change the bylaw, a public hearing would likely be held next month. kwestad@timescolonist.com

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