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Public washrooms aren't part of the plan for new Songhees marina

Oct 28 2012
City of Victoria's public washroom on Langley Street near Bastion Square. 

City of Victoria's public washroom on Langley Street near Bastion Square.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury , Times Colonist

When the Victoria International Marina opens on the Songhees in the Inner Harbour - possibly as early as 2014 - it will have plenty of room for luxury yachts.

But public washrooms for the pedestrians that throng West Song Way? So far, that's up in the air.

Promotional material for the 29-slip marina extols community benefits, including a restaurant, coffee house and public kayak deck, but says nothing about washrooms.

Project lead Larry Halgren said the marina is not required by its permits to have public washrooms.

"However, this will likely end up being a business decision made by the tenants in the buildings we will be constructing."

City communications director Katie Josephson said the marina's development permit concerned only the exteriors of two proposed buildings. "It didn't even allow for that [washroom] conversation to occur."

Halgren said in an email that he believes supplying washrooms is up to the city if it has installed public walkways.

But not every washroom open to the public is paid for by public bodies.

For about 20 years, the Ogden Point Café washrooms have had to be open to the public at the breakwater as part of its lease with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

"It's just part of the opportunity - if they're going to come down here and operate, we've had that condition," says harbour authority CEO Curtis Grad.

On one weekend in August, the café's owners put up a sign asking that only patrons use their washrooms.

They weren't planning to turn away anyone in need, but a dog show on the adjacent property led to an overwhelming number of people using the washrooms.

"We had a lineup out the door," said co-owner Adam Helm, and the washrooms are on a septic system.

Whether the small café's toilets can handle the Dallas Road crowd until new washrooms are installed as part of the Ogden Point master plan is an issue that Grad says has never been raised with the harbour authority.

"But now that it has been raised, it's on my radar," said Grad, who plans to ask his team to look at options "with a modest investment" to washroom access before then.

The West Song walkway isn't the only area where public washroom use is an issue. At the Michell Brothers farm store at Island View Road, bikers using the Lochside Trail still come in to use the washroom, despite the presence of a nearby portable toilet installed by the Capital Regional District in 2008.

Prior to that, the store was "just swamped" by cyclists needing the single washroom meant for customers, Terry Michell said. "We had to pay to get our septic system pumped a couple of times" - at $180 a pop, he said.

There are five washrooms along the 55-kilometre Galloping Goose Trail, with the last one - a pit toilet - installed at Roche Cove last year. Those five include a City of Victoria washroom at the Selkirk Trestle, and pit toilets at Atkins Road, Sooke River Road and the Sooke Potholes, as well as Roche Cove.

Those who need to go while downtown have access to a few public facilities installed by the city of Victoria.

Last year, the city installed the $90,000 Langley Street loo near Bastion Square. Since 2006, the city has operated 24/7 washrooms in Centennial Square at an annual cost of $182,000 and $65,000 for security guards.

There are 17 public washrooms open in city parks from morning until dusk, costing about $500,000 a year - $315,000 to operate and $185,000 for maintenance.

"I definitely feel that we need more access to washrooms open to anyone in the public," says Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, a longtime advocate for more facilities downtown available late at night.

"The difficulty is budget and ensuring safe and clean washrooms for the public.

Unless we can ensure that they are accessible, safe and clean ... we're not going to put in a washroom just to say there's a washroom."

Every time the city does add a washroom, Thornton-Joe said, she gets "an amazing number of calls" from citizens upset with the decision to spend money on such facilities.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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