The 2008/09 recession that slowed anticipated local growth is long past. Sooke has lost its best-kept secret status to the regret of many of us who value small-town charm and pace, and who continually need to remind ourselves that we're still living remarkably wild by nature in this still unspoilt region. Have a look out the front doors of the new Sooke library (or from the sports court box, for that matter) and convince me I'm wrong. As much as it may feel like it on days we don't stray far from #14, we are not becoming an extension of Langford even with the growth in traffic between here and there.
(And that's right, I'm not a commuter but I know the feeling as recently as last week during a late-afternoon crawl home starting at Daniel's Market. Alleviating traffic congestion is a primary goal in three key #Sooke documents -- the provisional OCP, the newly minted Climate Action Plan and the 2021 Community Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan. Implementation of BC Transit's Sooke Local Area Transit Plan and the south island RapidBus system will also help in growing our region-leading 12% per capita ridership.)
For the most part, the incoming, mostly mixed-use commercial and residential projects listed below have the required zoning and will -- pending council approval of their various commitments to meet Sooke's Development Permit, Town Centre Design Handbook and Downtown Design guidelines -- be breaking ground in the heart of the "complete and compact community" that the CRD's Regional Growth Strategy and our own Official Community Plan (both current and pending) demands. Our Transportation Master Plan also confirms "high growth potential" for the Town Centre with "moderate growth" for the Sewer Specified Area (which could expand with Kaltasin and Whiffin Spit neighbourhood assent should sewer expansion grant funding be available as we'll discover this time next year.)
All this developer interest and activity is a product, I'll hazard to say, of a number of factors here where we've just reached city-status with our 15,000+ population:
* The clear vision and practical action plans for the short and mid-term future contained in our updated master plans, including the aforementioned multi-modal Transportation plan with its focus on the Throup-Grant Rd. connector route/bypass.
* The continued evolution of an attractive, functional town centre with smartly updated arterial corridors (Otter Point Rd., Church Rd., Charters to follow), bike lanes, new sidewalks (as far as Ed Macgregor Park on the West Coast Rd. with continuation on to Whiffin Spit Rd. next) and a street-front business community marked more by unique independents than identikit national chains.
* The evolution of the town centre Lot A (with its landmark new library and the promise/potential of a public plaza, the age-friendly Gathering Place intergenerational centre, and expanded health care facilities as the five-acre property's design and flow is integrated with Evergreen Mall.)
* New all-ages community amenities like the splendid fitness room at SEAPARC, the Ponds Corridor dog park and the multi-sport court box in Sunriver with more (such as the grant-dependent DeMamiel Creek/Little River pedestrian route and updated skate park) to follow;
* A full range of K-12 schools (ready for updating, it's true, with the promised Sunriver Elementary slated to break ground in 2027 according to a facilities plan ever subject to change and major decisions to be made by School District #62 about the future of Sooke Elementary, the oldest in BC, occupying a large development-perfect ocean view property and one of four Sooke schools contributing to traffic slow-downs along our provincial highway);
* The provincially/federally funded 50% expansion of our wastewater treatment plant to increase capacity and accommodate incoming growth;
* Above all, the utterly spectacular harbour town setting in which folks from all parts of the country aspire to live, here where the still-standing rain forest meets the mostly pollution-free sea (which still isn't clean enough for renewed shellfish harvesting, it must be said, and is one central reason why sewers east to Kaltasin are needed.)
Today's update is inspired a) by my need to get my thoughts in order for the upcoming election; and b) by a recent Citified summary headlined "Sooke's village core earmarked for growth with 995 units of rentals and ownership opportunities underway." That number is aligned with the District's own calculation last year that 1200 new residential addresses are in the works for the rest of the 2020s. (Sooke grew by 16% to 15k residents in the five years since the last census, and we're told by the CRD statisticians and the authors of the draft OCP that we can anticipate annual 2.9% growth through 2050 and a population by then of 25k. To meet that growth, the OCP tells us we need 1,813 more units by 2030, another 1,567 by 2040 and a further 1,658 by 2050.
[To repeat, broken-record fashion, my own opinion: We need to question and challenge these projections given the reality of our increasingly congested two-lane highway, Sooke's overall carrying capacity as a population centre and our OCP-certified desire to remain "a small town with a big heart." Growth was intended to flow along Van isle's eastern seaboard, not out our way, and we can simply only accommodate so much.]
This influx of new residents along with the rest of us will also be served by many thousands of square feet (note to self: add it up) of proposed new retail and office space, a critical need for Sooke's community economic development aspirations. (PS Applications now welcome for the District's Community Ec Dev Officer position, deadline Sept.5. This renewed position is utterly timely and critical so as to work along with the Chamber of Commerce with property managers to ensure they make space available first to local businesses, home-based enterprises ready for expansion, independents from elsewhere who might want to open a Sooke outlet, arts collectives, hub co-working enterprises (Province of BC and private operators like Club Kwench), etc. All before the national chains get a look-in (do we really need a London Drugs, Canadian Tire, Starbucks, etc. when they're so readily at hand in Langford? My wish: NO, enough with globalization, thank you.)
Our town's Housing Needs Report (2019) calls for additional and varied housing right across the spectrum. The major issues it identified: 1. An extremely tight rental market; 2. Significant growth anticipated in senior households (and the need for downsizing options for locals); 3. The need for social housing, especially for affordable housing; and 4. A shift towards smaller-sized households and building footprints due to the sky high cost of available housing (still up 3% compared to this time last year.)
Stone Ridge, Viewpointe Estates, SookePoint and the next phase of Erinan Estates will certainly address the million-plus single-family end of that Sooke spectrum. At the other extreme, the Hope Centre will have 33 transitional housing units when renovations are complete this fall and the new BC Housing complexes at Charters and Drennan will offer 49 shelter-rate apartments. The latter will also feature nearly 200 below-market rental units. (The Sooke Homelessness Coalition plans to advocate for emergency solutions such as a carefully regulated pilot project that would match RV dwellers, whose numbers are rising, with homeowners who can offer a stable parking pad in return for a modest monthly fee.)
In between we have Sooke median-priced single-family homes (I live in one such rancher) and other varied stock, but not so much until recently of the "missing-middle" options -- apartments, condominiums, three-and-fourplexes, town homes and genuinely affordable, smaller-footprint (500-1500 sq ft) single-family homes of the kind championed by Small Housing BC. The new wave of construction is certainly delivering a relative wealth of purpose-built rentals to the town centre. "Gentle densification" encouraging various housing types to flourish outside the TC is encouraged in the draft OCP. And secondary suites remain possible throughout the District, both as mortgage-helpers and essential housing (hopefully mostly for full-time residents, not tourists, but that's okay too if the balance is right.)
As for density, there's been a fair bit of confusion during OCP deliberations over the draft's call for a maximum density of 70 units per hectare in the Community Residential (CR) designation (i.e., the Sewer Specified Area west of the Sooke River). Some have wrongly claimed that this means every CR landowner would be free to dramatically densify their single-family lots and we'd see cluster housing on what are now single-family streets.
Not so, however. As District staff and the OCP consultants have stated repeatedly, "maximum densities within each designation will be informed by the policy direction of the OCP and the site-specific zoning provided in the Zoning Bylaw." (to quote the document itself, pg. 56). This same site-specific rule also applies to the proposed Town Centre Core, Town Centre Transitional and Town Centre Waterfront designations where density is welcome. (Up to a point; the 2009 Town Centre Plan envisions net growth in the TC of 1400 by 2050.)
A new Zoning Bylaw is required following the adoption of any new OCP, and our first-read community plan currently allows six-storey buildings north of Sooke Rd. in the TC and only along Brownsey south of it. These too will be site specific in the new zoning bylaw. (Interestingly, the current zoning bylaw's High-Density Multi-Family RM-4 category allows a maximum of 90 units per hectare. Ayre Manor and West Wind Harbour are the only spots so designated. the CD7 zoning for Mariner's Village allows 50 units per hectare maximum.)
Turning to the major projects identified in the Citified round-up and some others of significant note:
* BC Housing affordable rental projects at Charters (75 units total) and Drennan (170) are moving along nicely as is plainly evident from a drive-by. (Full details and site plans in the Dec. 14, 2019 council agenda.) The modular complex at Charters across from Art Morris Park will reportedly open later this year following an extended delay necessitated by the discovery of a northwest coastal shell midden missed when the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development's Archeological Branch signed off on the project. Meanwhile, the north and south BC Housing apartment blocks at Drennan are expected to be complete a year from now. In total, these Regional Housing First Program projects will offer 195 units of varying sizes for renters with low and moderate incomes along with 49 apartments available at the Income Assistance Rate Table Shelter Maximum (aka shelter rate.)
* John Phillips Memorial Park retail/residential mixed-use buildings on the east side of Otter Point Rd. via the Victoria contractor GT Mann (see pg. 7 - 121 in the April 12, 2021 council agenda). This 0.87 hectare (2.15 acre) Neighbourhood Commercial (C1)-zoned site will feature 13k sq. ft of ground floor office/commercial space plus two upper floors comprising 77 market-rate rentals with park views. As you'll read in Corvidae's environmental assessment, all due care is being taken to integrate the project into the park, save existing trees not on the site footprint, plant new ones, manage stormwater and protect Nott Pond. (PS This property was never parkland, as some have assumed, and it is not the proposed Sooke Lions-initiated community space, which is slated -- if at all pending further community engagement -- for the slope rising to Wadams Way; the town hall information session on the subject is set for Sept. 25.)
* Harbourview, aka Mariner's Village Phase Two (SeaCliff Group Properties, Vancouver.) We on the current council have yet to see any documentation and, as frustratingly ever with most such projects, won't until the Development Permit application reaches us 96 or so hours before it's addressed at a formal meeting (if at all pre-election). SeaCliff's plans are based, however, on the CD7 site-specific zoning secured by former MV owner Mike Barrie and included with the Sooke Zoning Bylaw (2013; see pp. 152-159). As the Times Colonist reported, first-stage construction will involve i) Two structures along Sooke Road -- a one-storey commercial building and a three-storey mixed-use building (commercial space plus townhomes); and ii) a six-storey apartment building further down the slope flanked by townhouses; according to the zoning, this could reach eight storeys if all the amenities (listed in part in the next paragraph) that are cited in the zone's Appendix C are met in full..
Site development here will see extensions of Goodmere and Lanark Roads (as per the map on pg. 157 of the zoning bylaw, see the micro-screenshot below). The developer will also create an east-bound left turn lane off Sooke Road into Sooke Elementary. Less appealing, of course, is the loss of what I imagine will be large portions of the view for which the project's now named. Construction will also eliminate the whole-of-site park potential on this remarkable piece of land. The majestic oak tree will remain as the gateway to a future waterfront trail if the CD7 zoning is followed to the letter and provided construction does not interfere with what must be a complex root system. Protected oceanfront parkland will include the cormorant-nesting trees, one of Sooke's most magical sights. And provision is also made for a future boardwalk extension to one day link with the Rotary Pier. I'm most interested to see how creatively the design can retain the harbour views (glimpses?) from Sooke Rd. and whether the Sooke Elementary students who perch and play on their playground circle of rocks will still be able to see the ocean. (SeaCliff is also building Westview and the Tesla Centre in Langford, and Royal Beach in Colwood.)
* Westside of Brownsey Blvd. (WestUrban Developments, Campbell River with a south island HQ in Langford.) With ambitions to be one of Western Canada's leading developers and numerous projects on the go, WestUrban has submitted a Development Permit application (see June 13, 2022 council agenda, pp. 5-71) for two six-storey buildings with 904 sq. meters of ground-floor commercial and 161 rental units. It was received by council on June 13 this year and sent back for further tinkering by staff and the applicant given that of the 52 Development Permit guidelines it triggers, 12 were entirely unmet and another 21 were only partially fulfilled. The appilcant, as they note, is investing $80m in developing this vital, long-dormant stretch of the town centre and yet we've only one chance to get this right. (Quick calculation: 161 apartments at an average of $1500/month = $2.9m per year in rental revenue not counting commercial space.) Personally, I'd like draft OCP short-term action #2 -- revise the Town Centre Plan -- to be completed before the next council has to make this call, but that's not necessarily how a restless free-market works when zoning is in place.
The challenge is to better align the design of these two six-storey (with underground parking) mixed-use buildings with the vision embedded in Sooke's current Town Centre Plan. It calls for a pedestrian-friendly, shop-and-cafe laced corridor with wide landscaped sidewalks leading down to the water. ("Provisionally named Waterview Street, this shop-lined ‘high street’ connects to the waterfront. Here, marine-commercial uses and a public pier complete this new ‘spine’ for the Town Centre. Lower density development on the streets that cross Waterview Street will be primarily townhouses with vehicle access from lanes at the rear of the lots." - pg. 6). Whether the terrain and relatively narrow building footprints on Brownsey realistically allows this vision remains to be seen.
As I wrote on FB early this summer: "This is a huge, character-shaping moment in the evolution of our town centre. The variances the applicant is seeking appear to be workable, but District staff also have issues with street-front form and character of the two proposed buildings. 'The main issue,' stated the staff report, 'is that the development does not establish a pedestrian-oriented streetscape [aka "Village High Street"] because of the following: Significant retaining walls, blank walls, lack of a consistent line of building fronts that clearly define the space of a street, surface parking on a highly visible, prominent corner, and limited at-grade access to each of the buiding sites ... Improvement is needed to create a more engaging and vibrant pedestrian streetscape as supported by Development Permit objectives.' (These DP objectives are listed in full in the report and measured against the proposal. Many are met, some are not. And this is why getting it right with the new DP guidelines in our draft OCP is so critically important for moments exactly like this.)"
* Eastside of Brownsey Blvd. (6643 Sooke Road.) The Edmonton-based Postmark Group pulled out of its exciting plans for a mass-timber commercial/office/residential proposal. Postmark's website is down and its Facebook page reveals no clues. The property was sold again late last year for $1.88m.
* Wadams Farm (Aragon Development, Vancouver.) All details and maps can be found in the July 12, 2021 council agenda (pg. 9-134). To quote myself again (Nov. 4, 2020): "The zoning went through in 2016 at the request of the owner and it is now in the respected, reputable hand of the new-urbanist Aragon Development. Its approved plan for a neighbourhood of 132 homes (78 strata townhouse units and 54 fee simple single-family lots) aligns precisely with the OCP's Sooke Smart Growth ambitions at the northern edge of the town centre."
* The Gathering Place (Sooke Region Communities Health Network). A team led by Christine Bossi and Marlene Barry are creatively campaigning to raise $2 million for the intergenerational community centre (click here to donate) adjacent to the library. The 70 proposed seniors' affordable rental units on three floors above it are contingent on a successful BC Housing grant application when the next funding window opens in fall 2023. (More on the project's long genesis here.)
* Nott Brook (Aragon Development). No word on when a Development Permit proposal will be brought forward for the decade-delayed 127-residence Nott Brook subdivision blanketing the western side of the former golf course, likely not until Wadams Farm is well on the way to completion.
Major projects yet to be rezoned or brought forward for Development Permits and which future councils have the ability to confirm, negotiate with and/or deny:
* West Ridge Trails Phase 3. The third and final phase of this development by Richmond-based (but Sooke-rooted) Farrell Estates (McPhail Group of Companies) will stretch on now forested land from Blanchard as far as Sellars Dr. behind the project's first two phases on the east slope of Broom Hill. Those initial phases (70 single family homes) are now sold-out. The proposed Phase 3 involves a 20-year (market conditional) plan to build 425 homes on 100 second-growth acres (i.e., 340 small, medium and large single family residential lots and 85 multi-family units.) A commercial area (4k m2) is to feature offices, cafe/restaurant and corner store. See maps, trail networks, environmental report and rationales in the OCP Advisory Committee agenda of Nov. 17, 2021. (The draft OCP initially labelled this land rural rather than the current Community Residential since it was judged, by planning staff and consultants, to be far enough from the town centre to qualify as sprawl. Cue pushback from the owners on the grounds that District staff had, in late 2017, effectively greenlit phase 3 and okayed construction of a connector road. Council returned the CR designation during first reading of the OCP bylaw this spring. I voted against this on the grounds that I'd have liked further discussion atop what was a relatively, by my windy standards, brief conversation on the subject. I did so while knowing that phase three will only go ahead should a future council rezone the land and approval sewer inclusion. It's a sensitively and smartly designed project but i wonder if the appilcant can up their game and create a bona fide climate-smart, Net Zero neighbourhood of Sooke's aspirational dreams. And/or demonstrate the creative possibilities for affordable 21st century housing as per the Small Housing BC toolkit. What an opportunity for Sooke builders to expand their already solid skill sets into a more diverse array of housing types.)
* Country Grocer project (Large family/Mid America Venture Capital Corp, Victoria.) Rezoning required on a proposal that will cover 156k sq. ft. on nine greenfield acres behind and west of the Hope Centre. A key matter here is traffic flow, the main entrance (which could be a roundabout rather than signal light) and whether the Gatewood right-of-way will become an arterial route connecting Grant Rd. West to the West Coast Road (i.e., who will pay for it.) Times Colonist article (June 20, 2021) + my Facebook post of May 9, 2021:
"Further details I can share re: the news that the owners of the nine-acre field immediately west and north of the Hope Centre off the West Coast Road will be seeking approvals to transform it into a mixed-use complex (aka shopping mall with office space and possibly residential). The upsides of additional commercial space in the heart of town are stated well by the Chamber's Britt Santowski in today's Times Colonist.
Definite regrets about the potential loss of this green space -- the source of many buckets of blackberries over the years for dedicated pickers, a wild space for deer and such a lovely green vista for those of us who practiced at Sooke Yoga. Yet it's prime for density and development given it location on the western-most edge of the Town Centre within the walkability zone defined by OCP planners past and present.
The property is owned by the Large family, operators of the Country Grocer chain on Vancouver Island. They've decided the time is right to develop a parcel they've held since the early 1980s and will be seeking the necessary Town Centre Mixed Use zoning to proceed.
The 20 or so of us attending the Zoom public open house learned from coordinator Trevor Dickie that the design will be built out over 10 to 15 years in response to market demand. The anchor tenant and initial build will be a 35k sq. foot grocery store. A second building of equal size will rise alongside it. Additional blocks of smaller spaces are for stores and offices. No residential units are currently in the plans, though he says all is possible prior to submission of a Development Permit application next year. (This DP will reflect and be responsive to directions established in the new OCP, he added, thus likely making a condo component essential over the project's time frame given the calls for town-centre density in mixed-used residential/commercial developments. Certainly a logical addition given the postcard views from any future third-or-fourth floor residences.)
Main vehicle access will be via the property immediately west of the Hope Centre, with traffic controlled by a signal light or roundabout, he said. A secondary access will be along the north half of Gatewood off Eustace Road. The half of Gatewood accessible from the West Coast Road will remain a walking trail. "First step will be the grocery, a bank and other uses," said Dickie. The second big box might be split into three retail spaces or used by a single operator. "A Walmart prototype would not fit on this site," he said definitively to the relief of a number of us on the call. "A whole lot of work is to be done before we have the details in place."
Here's the update on my late 2018 summary of works in varying states of progress. The websites for Stone Ridge Estates and Heron View, to cite two, have been taken down likely because they are complete (or nearly so in the former's case). The list is incomplete and I'll revise it with help from the District's Development Tracker.
* 133 Aragon Properties homes and townhouses at the northwest corner of Wadams Way & Church
* 70 SRCHN/BC Housing units of affordable seniors’ rentals above the Gathering Place on Lot A (grant conditional)
* 123 Aragon single family homes and duplexes at Nott Brook (east-side Otter Point Rd. across from John Phillips)
* 77 GT Mann apartments in the two mixed-use buildings at the former Mulligans
* 26 Agius Builders townhouses in Meadowlands at north end of Kennedy Rd. North (opposed on grounds that we needed more info on how road network in this area will be improved through the then-incomplete Transportation Master Plan)
* 7 multi-family two-bedroom cluster units at 2063 Townsend Rd. (see May 9, 2022 agenda, pp. 5-40)
* 16 single-family lots 6829 Grant Road/Stone Hearth Lane (R3 zone)
* x final homes to to build-out at Woodlands Creek
* 42 Knox Vision Society affordable rental units at southwest corner of Wadams Way & Church
* 31 condominium units at West Wind Harbour Cohousing on the waterfront west of Mariner’s Village
* 20 town homes at West Village, Eustace Road west of Gatewood
* 10 townhouses on Ayre Road
* 22 Agius Builders townhouses at Grasslands (2119 Charters Rd.)
* 40+ more single-family homes at Woodlands Creek
Otter Point Rd. North
* 29 single-family homes to be built in phase 2 of West Ridge Trails (lots have sold)
* 425 single-family homes in phase 3 of West Ridge Trails (zoning dependent)
* 16 single-family homes at 2445 Otter Point Rd. (opposed upzoning that would have increased the number to 27)
* 5 single-family lots at 2614 Otter Point Rd.
* 7 single-family Rowils Estates lots at 2489 Otter Point Rd. (April 23, 2019 council meeting; opposed)
* 41 single-family homes in phase 1 of West Ridge Trails (Burr/Blanchard)
Sooke ~ East of Charters Rd.
* 75 BC Housing -- 15 units at shelter rate, 24 affordable units and 36 near-market units at Charters/Throup
* 169 BC Housing -- 34 units at shelter rate, 52 affordable units and 83 near-market units at northwest corner of Drennan/Sooke Rd.
* ? DP filed at 6519 Throup Rd.
* 28 townhomes at 2104 Charters Rd.
* 140 more single-family homes to build-out of Sunriver (its website references “a community of 715 homes”; zoning amendment currently on hold.)
* New commercial building at 2330 Sunriver Way
* 50+ more patio-style homes to build-out at RiversEdge Village/Sunriver
Sooke ~ West of Gatewood
* 109 single-family homes planned for the remaining phases of Viewpointe Estates
* 24 (?) town homes in the construction zone between Brailsford and Melrick Place
* ? single-family homes to build-out in future phases of Erinan Estates
* 11.5 cluster homes at 1923 Maple Ave. S. (potential; 2 homes approved on Nov. 26, 2018)
* 4 fee-simple lots at 1939 Maple Ave. S. (approved May 13, 2019)
* 34 single-family homes in phase three of Stone Ridge Estates
* 22 single-family homes in phase four of Stone Ridge Estate
* 27 condos at The Residences on Sooke Harbour, 1820 Maple Ave. South
* 10 single-family homes in phase seven of Heron View
* 14-lot potential at 7057 West Coast Road
* 6 single-family homes on southside of 6000-block West Coast Road across from Sooke Harbour Resort
* 5 lot subdivision at 5627 Woodlands Rd.
* 3 home subdivision at 5686 Woodlands Rd.
* 5 strata homes at 5651 Woodlands Rd. (upzoned on Nov. 26, 2018 from previously permitted one home; opposed)
* 127 building sites at SookePoint in the former East Sooke. The Whiffin Spit-facing "ocean cottages" at Possession Point (click for June, 2022 site plan) are now fully sold.