The Marker Group's The Meridian building on Third Street in Sidney. (Steven Heywood/News staff)

Business and residential growth on the Saanich Peninsula is booming

BUSINESS PROFILES 2017: Change has been a constant

The Peninsula News Review’s Business Profiles edition hits the streets on Nov. 8. This is the first of four stories coming out this week from that special publication.

One can’t help but notice the significant amount of growth occurring on the Saanich Peninsula. A simple walk about in downtown Sidney alone reveals at least eight different places where new buildings have gone up within the last couple years — or where older buildings have recently been torn down. And that’s just a small sample within a small area.

Elsewhere, there are commercial properties along Sidney’s Beacon Avenue and its side streets where redevelopment work is already under way.

In Central Saanich as well, new residential and commercial buildings have gone up this year and last — with plenty more on the way over the coming months. And in North Saanich, residential developments are in progress along McDonald Park Road and Canora Road — projects that were approved prior to the last civic election, after which most new development proposals were put on hold as the municipality began a review of its priorities. Still, there is progress.

Even at a public or institutional level, there are new works in play. North Saanich recently finished a renovation and rebuild of its municipal hall and opened new pickleball courts in a park off of Wain Road. In Sidney, construction is under way on the Town’s estimated $14 million community safety building that will replace its existing fire hall. And when that is finally done, the old fire hall will likely make way for a trend of mixed-use — commercial and residential — building growth within the community’s downtown core.

On the surface, you can’t help but get the impression there’s a lot of change happening on the Saanich Peninsula.

That’s the theme of this year’s Peninsula News Review Business Profiles edition. It’s not so much about individual business profiles this time around, but a profile of our community as it faces new challenges of growth — with a nod to a pair of very large commercial developments on the near horizon.

The more things change …

Having a theme of change opens the topic up to many different interpretations — what is change? Is change good? Why do we need change?

But one thing is for certain, change is always happening, and the reasons for it are as varied as the people who question it.

One person who has been watching the community around him change — and has been a big part of that change in Sidney specifically — is Grant Rogers, owner of the Marker Group. His company has literally changed the face of Sidney over the years. Take the waterfront area alone — the Sidney Pier Hotel, Beacon Park and most recently the addition of the Victoria Distillery — Rogers has contributed to the revitalization of that space and is continuing to do so as the municipality moves ahead with its planning for further change along the shore.

Rogers, who has lived, worked and built in Sidney all of his life, says change is a constant. The only thing that really differs from time to time, is the pace at which it occurs. And the pace is set by a number of conditions — from local government policy and regulations and demand, to federal tax laws as they relate to capital gains.

The latter, Rogers pointed out, has affected how communities grow — or do not grow, as the case may be.

“Canada has a lot of buildings that last to the end (of their useful lives),” he explained.

The owners of those buildings often hold onto them for a long time, wary of selling them when faced with the capital gains tax. Only when they near retirement might their priorities change and until then, they repair and maintain until the buildings sometimes become unsafe.

“In Sidney, there are a lot of properties at the end of their useful lives and property values are up to a point where current uses of these buildings are not at their highest value.”

Rogers said a lot of Sidney today hearkens back to when much of it was built in the 1950s and ’60s and there wasn’t a lot of value in overall properties.

“Today, we are surrounded by some places with the highest property values in Canada,” he continued. “That drives costs — and need — up.”

Live-work and play

The need in Sidney, as in many other communities, requires an investment in homes and businesses that are not the traditional single family homes with picket fences — the dream of home ownership help by people of a certain generation.

Rogers said his company has taken a building at the end of its useful life — on Fourth Street in Sidney — and cleared it out to make way for the modern iteration of housing for the audience that Sidney as a community is trying to attract: young families. His new project is called The Quartet and Rogers said it’s an experiment for his company.

It’s a 22-unit complex, with 19 one, two and three-bedroom residential units, with three live-work units on the ground floor.

“We think young people who are in business are looking for those options,” he explained, “to be able to affor4d both a place to live and a place to work.”

The concept is based loosely on European designs and even the old idea that the proprietor of a store or business of any kind, lives in close proximity to it.

“Sidney needs young families and professionals to thrive,” Rogers said, “and new ways of thinking will help make that happen.”

Rogers said the goal is to try to make people’s lives more affordable. While he knows his buildings are often used by people who are downsizing from single family homes, many other buyers represent a world that has changed from 10 to 15 years ago.

“People are living differently. This new generation is willing and wants to live in a way that’s different from their parents.”

The Quartet is expected to start construction early in 2018 and take 14 to 15 months to complete.

Rogers has been continuing to bring new ideas to the table for years and most recently his company completed The Meridian of Third Street — a mixed-use and modern structure that took the place of an older building that had once been a furniture store and which had sat vacant for a while.

Today, there are a few other buildings sitting vacant in downtown Sidney. Some are being looked at for redevelopment — such as the corner lot at Beacon and Fourth Street, just down the road from a multi-storey, affordable-unit condo building being built by the Greater Victoria Rental Housing Association. There’s no question that Sidney is looking to grow upwards.

Not far away, the intersection of Bevan Avenue and First Street is undergoing change. The site of the former Peninsula Co-op gas bar is being demolished and cleared for redevelopment. And right across the street, the same thing will happen to the former Boondocks Restaurant building property. Right up the road from there, a small lot at Bevan and Third Street has been cleared to make room for a new townhouse project. It seems almost every available square foot of space in downtown Sidney is eyed for change.

And Sidney isn’t the only place where change happens. New buildings have gone up recently in Saanichton and Brentwood Bay and more are coming. Rogers’s company bought the site of the former United Church in Brentwood Bay and is in the process of redeveloping that into The Arbours — a building that will cater to downsizers, helping keep people in the community longer. He said it’s also a live-work concept — a continuation of the experiment he is starting in Sidney.

… the more they stay the same

“Change is always happening.”

Rogers, who has lived in Sidney his entire life, has seen that year after year. In some form, there is change — whether that be building a new recreation centre (Panorama) and large hotel on the waterfront (Pier), to what’s possibly coming at the Sidney Crossing and Sandown Property developments.

“There are always people who say they don’t want it,” Rogers said. “but I’ve lived here all my life and it’s been changing this whole time.”

Most change — or specifically development change — is driven by the largest population to inhabit North America: the Baby Boomers. As their lives change, he said, so do their needs. It’s this, that’s driving new projects on the Saanich Peninsula, supplemented by what new generations are asking for in their own lives. And the latter are looking for new ways to be able to afford the lifestyle they want — and that is getting away from detached homes and yards.

“Simplicity seems to be the new reality.”

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