We as a council certainly did vote unanimously on Monday night to approve issuance of a Development Permit for a single-storey, 6,300 sq. foot retail space in the southeastern, Sooke Road-fronting section of Evergreen Mall. Said building has been customized for a Tim Hortons restaurant with drive-thru lane plus space for two smaller retail shops.
Designed in a west-coast style consistent with our downtown design guidelines, the building is positioned at a right angle to the site of the two-storey, mixed-use structure that went up in flames after a dumpster fire in July, 2013 and has since sat vacant ~ a bare concrete pad used by liquor store customers and for impromptu gatherings of the show-and-shine crowd.
Yes, you're absolutely correct: This will be a second Timbits mecca in town after a history of none whatsoever ~ Sooke being too small to rate as investment-worthy until our latest, fastest growth spurt towards city status. The TH half of the gas bar and donut shop on T'Sou-ke land east of Edward Milne Community School will also be operated by the same franchisee (who also owns a TH outlet in Langford). Chain supply economics make it logical and cost-effective to also operate a larger restaurant in Sooke. (The Sooke PocketNews broke the story of a second Tim Hortons last September.)
All in all, in my opinion, Timmies is a case study in late-stage capitalism at its aggressively expansionist peak, fuelled by mass cravings for sugar-shock treats and caffeine wrapped in red and white branding. Our two outlets will soon join 3,900-something others in Canada. Another thousand locations operate in the U.S. and overseas. Chinese expansion began last month with a first restaurant in Shanghai. This is an iconic Canadian-themed multi-national with majority Brazilian ownership, some bad press of late and yet with a reputation as a community hero. Difficult to believe, but stats say TH serves eight of every ten cups of coffee sold in Canada every day, year round.
I am not averse to roadtrip patronage nor its maple-dipped temptations, yet almost invariably feel regret after indulging (one donut is never enough, three paradoxically at least two too many). Likewise, I have regret and second thoughts about my vote the other night. Rather than positively reframing the inevitable, I could, perhaps should, have flatly voted no to a third town centre drive-through (Tim Hortons isn't the primary concern, it's the encouragement of more auto traffic that bothers me most). True, a nay on my part wouldn't have made a difference to the final outcome but it would have made it easier to live with myself these mornings after.
* The District's Head Planner Ivy Campbell and her team worked extensively with the new mall owners Skyline Retail REIT (based in Ontario and an emerging heavyweight in the Canadian mall business) to ensure the specs and amenities were right. You'll find design drawings, streetscape images and the full staff report starting on pg. 119 of the agenda package. It makes for fulsome reading and is indicative of the quality and care that staff, in my experience to date, pore into these kind of documents.
* As my council colleagues mentioned, the development will deliver local jobs and tax dollars while replacing the gap tooth in the mall's fire-damaged layout. Many in Sooke will be delighted to have an up-Sooke Timmies as a hang out. And as much as we all want independent business to thrive, none apparently was knocking at Skyline REIT's door and the new landlords wanted to get busy with creating a suitable home for an eager fast-food client.
* Unlike the accident-waiting-to-happen drive-thru at McD's across the street, this one is purpose-built with a relatively long serpentine entrance ramp ~ a set-up that will theoretically handle the expected auto volume (as identified in the required traffic impact study). The line-up of cars awaiting their double-doubles will be hidden from Sooke Road sight by a berm planted with three dozen red maple saplings. Four EV charging stations are included in the revamped parking grid along with a new dedicated parking lot across from the liquour store.
* The road access to the mall off the roundabout will be marginally revamped and improved. There will be a new set of sidewalks; those crossing Evergreen's access road will be slightly raised and will serve as rolling speed humps to slow traffic. Mayor Tait lobbied for interlocking pavers (rather than standard poured concrete) along the full extent of the eastern sidewalk leading into the mall to the edge of the right-turn into the drive-thru and new retail zone.
* The Mayor also noted that drive-thrus are favoured by young families and the disabled. Idle stop-start technology is now a thing with new gas-guzzlers and EVs alike. No idling signage should be posted in reminding drivers of the (effectively unenforceable) CRD bylaw.
My turn at the mic
When my turn in the speakers' queue came around, it was evident that a clear majority of us would be supporting staff's recommendation to okay the Development Permit. Nobody had addressed the downsides of the proposal, so I embarked on a rambling critique. Here are the key points as I recall them, fleshed out well beyond what I'm sure would be a much shorter, considerably more ramshackle verbateman transcript of what I actually said.
* The notion of drive-thrus and chain retail is anathema to Transition Sooke, of which I was president for five years, and so my views are coloured. TS champions local business, human-scale community, Sooke Smart Growth, public transit mode shift, cycling, alternative energy, the circular economy (dollars spent here, stay here), #keepitintheground, and zero waste. (A few scraps of "roll-up-the-rim" litter from Langford turned up in the Zero Waste Sooke street clean-ups in which I've participated in recent years, but just a fraction compared to trash from our local McDonalds. The ratio will surely change in future clean-ups).
* The CRD has just declared a climate emergency. Approving as classic a car-culture perk as a drive-through here in Motor City at this time isn't the least congruent with acting responsibly in the face of said emergency.
* A town without a Tim Hortons ... or a Starbucks or London Drugs or any number of other chains you'll find within a 20-minute drive of here ... is a rare and precious thing worth preserving. Quaint, quirky, off-the-beaten path Sooke! Still with its own sense of itself! Not entirely awash in an A to Z of chain operators! (In my campaign literature, I'd mentioned that a moratorium on new chain businesses, or at least any found as nearby as Langford, was worth investigating ~ exactly what several reps from the Sooke Bike Club mentioned during public comments at the start of the night).
* The new retail-only structure replaces a building that served a variety of useful purposes -- bank, newspaper office, dance studio, insurance broker and a high-tech firm. It's those kind of office-space uses that we in Sooke are lacking, not more retail space at prices affordable only to chain franchisees. (A fond RIP once more to The Reading Room, which represented Sooke independent business as its best.)
* I said I didn't like contravening the spirit and letter of our current Official Community Plan. As Ms. Campbell's report noted, the OCP includes the line "encourage redevelopment of the Evergreen Mall in a manner that discourages vehicle dependent businesses such as automative services and drive-thrus." (Conversely, it also states, four clauses later under Economic Development Policies 4.4.3A, "focus high-traffic generating businesses on the north side of Sooke Road and pedestrian-friendly businesses on the south side of Sooke Road." I noted that a previous council had approved not one but two traffic-generating car washes on the south side of Sooke Rd., so anything clearly goes.)
* As much as many in Sooke are "screaming out" for a TH (as one councillor said in reference to young people), a significant number have been "screaming at' (I believe was my phrase) the prospect for some years now.
(I didn't recite recent history the other night, but this full-service TH and the T'Sou-ke outlet is the culmination of an extended saga of false starts over the last seven years at least. A gas bar and TH combo was cited in an unsuccessful Belvista Place/Sooke River Hotel rezoning application in May, 2012; the applicant at the time told the Land Use and Environment Committee that TH belonged in a service commercial zone, not the town centre. Nine months later, Three Point Properties proposed a drive-thru TH on the old Haldane family lot at the corner of Dover and Sooke Road; it fell through for reasons I can't fathom after reading the skimpy council minutes of the period. Likely because it was a lousy spot from which to manoeuvre volume traffic off and back on the Sooke Rd.)
Shifting to the positive reframe/concession
I noted that council and staff had initially pushed (as per the desire of the Official Community Plan) for a multi-storey, mixed-used structure ~ commercial on the ground floor, office and other uses upstairs. Yet the reps from Skyline Partners REIT noted that i) they're operating a business within their legislated zoning as legal land owners; ii) office space requires dedicated matching day-long parking spaces for employees and there aren't enough spots at Evergreen to handle existing and new customers; iii) they were creating a building that suits the demands of a prospective anchor tenant. The only solution, we were told, would be an underground lot, and that simply isn't in the cards nor budget at this time.
Evergreen Mall is an important part of our town centre, I noted in conclusion while looking Skyline's two representatives in the eyes, and we're counting on them to deliver on several other fronts in the future, namely ...
i) Facilitating the expansion of the West Coast Family Medical Clinic through takeovers of square footage currently occupied by H&R Block and Subway; and
ii) Redevelopment some day of the Western Foods section of the mall so that Evergreen can become contiguous with and blend somewhat seamlessly into the multiple uses planned for Lot A directly to the north. Silencing the noise of freezer and cooler fans at the back of Western is essential if we're to create a peaceful oasis in the plaza and market area envisioned for the sunny southwestern corner of Lot A.
And, on that note, I bowed out of the discussion until the motion was called. I voted with the team and have been kicking myself since.
* Skyline Partners REIT
~ Sooke marketing package
~ Corporate home page
* Tim Hortons/RBI
~ The Untold Truth of Tim Hortons
~ Tim Hortons: How A Brand Became Part of Our National Identity (Globe & Mail, 2014)
~ 11 Very Canadian Facts About Tim Hortons (Mental Floss)
~ Restaurant Brands International (RBI) was formed in 2014 when Burger King merged with the coffee chain. RBI is majority-owned by the Brazilian investment company 3G Capital. Company blurb: "Restaurant Brands International Inc. ("RBI") is one of the world's largest quick service restaurant companies with more than $30 billion in system-wide sales and over 25,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and U.S. territories. RBI owns three of the world's most prominent and iconic quick service restaurant brands – TIM HORTONS®, BURGER KING®, and POPEYES®. These independently operated brands have been serving their respective guests, franchisees and communities for over 45 years."
PRO "Vancouver's Drive-Throughs Leave Car Captives Wanting More" (Georgia Straight) "You see all sorts of people of all walks of life gravitate to it. It serves as a community center almost. It’s the antithesis to fancy latte culture, a place where anyone can feel comfortable."
CON "Study Says Restricting Fast Food Drive-Thrus Has Benefits" (Toronto Star) "The study identified 27 Canadian municipalities that implemented full (city-wide) or partial bans on drive-thru windows between 2002 and 2016 for reasons ranging from cutting down noise and traffic, to limiting litter and pollution, to protecting the local economy ... much of the research on the topic identifies obesity and chronic disease as major reasons to adopt a drive-thru ban."
* Drive-Thrus: Options range from banning new outlets to tightening zoning bylaws to restricting hours of operation (Canadian Press, 2007)
* Natural Resources Canada ~ Idle-Free Zone
* Capital Regional District Idling Bylaw
(my Zero Waste Sooke photo, summer 2015)