From Uptown to downtown: Saanich’s ‘ambitious’ 30-year plan depends on region-wide rapid transit

WatchSaanich's bold new vision for its future promises to densify and put pedestrians first, but hinges on rapid transit. Kori Sidaway reports.

Right now the area of Uptown in Saanich is a busy throughway and outdoor shopping mecca. But a new plan is being pushed to transform Uptown into “downtown.”

“It really is an ambitious plan and future envisioning that addresses climate change, affordability, and the quality of life,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes.

The plan, stretching over 20 to 30 years, would transform the area around Uptown into Saanich’s city centre as it prepares for an influx of residents.

According to the municipality, the population of the Douglas-Uptown area alone is growing by over four per cent annually, with its population projected to grow from 4,364 now to more than 9,000 by 2038.

And the new Uptown/Douglas Plan hopes to act as a guide to potential developers looking to build.

“Development applications now know where to go in and play. They know there the sandbox is if you like,” said Haynes. “Now, there will be rezoning needed…and if they want to go to the higher levels, then there’s a certain expectation of community amenities. What more they’re going to put on the table for the district to put the infrastructure in place that supports the higher density.”

That means buildings as high as 24 storeys for both residential and commercial use could be green-lit.

Central to the plan is converting much of the municipality’s grey to green by creating outdoor public plazas and putting pedestrians first.

“We’ve come up with a plan that increases housing of all kinds, commercial spaces, and industrial spaces and a plan that gives us the opportunity to build ourselves out of an auto-centric community,” said Mayor Haynes.

That’s a tough gig, considering 10 major roads run through the Uptown area.

As a result, the “aspirational plan” relies heavily on future changes to transportation infrastructure in the region.

“We envision light rapid transit coming in from the Westshore communities, ultimately all the way out to BC Ferries,” said John Schmuck,” former president of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, who was on an Uptown advisory committee.

The new template sees Uptown as the transportation hub for the whole South Island.

But it’s an area crowded by 13 regional municipalities, so Schmuck says, the decision and action for rapid transit, has to come from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation.

“Ultimately it has to be the provincial government that shows leadership on this,” said Schmuck.

Schmuck draws on the example of the Canada Line, which opened to unexpected high use in 2009.

“They said there will never be enough people riding it. As soon as they opened, ridership was double what they expected,” said Schmuch.

“I’m optimistic that we could have the same for an LRT line out to the Westshore communities and out to the peninsula.”

The ambitious plan’s next step is a public hearing on Feb. 15.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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