Gorge Tillicum Breaks the Mold

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Sep 23, 2011 No Comments ›› Wickson

As of 11:15 p.m. on May 26th, the Gorge Tillicum Community entered a new era when Saanich Council unanimously approved the development permits for two residential buildings on the Tillicum Centre parking lot. As a resident of the neighbor hood since 1988, I have been working and advocating for such a shift in thinking for over 11 years. On the surface this project looks like others we have heard about but not yet seen in action. However, I would argue that it is very different on a number of levels. First, the process that brought this idea to the table began with the community association. It was the Gorge Tillicum Community Association that asked for an action plan to deal with the concerns around the poor land use along both Tillicum and Burnside Roads. We followed that with a design charrette in partnership with Smart Growth BC and Saanich. It was by working on these projects we began to understand the positive values that can be realized through carefully developed densities. The very first positive value was the reduced environmental impact for the region. Higher land use results in better transportation choices reducing the per capita impact of the automobile, increasing walking, cycling and transit options resulting in cumulative health benefits. The Capital Region’s Regional Growth Strategy confirmed this thinking. But our problem always was that we as a community association did not have ownership control of the land. Following our charrette one property owner came forward with an innovative idea for the south west corner of Burnside and Tillicum but construction costs of the day became an insurmountable obstacle. All during this time, the new owners of Tillicum Centre were bringing forward ideas to upgrade the shopping mall. In the meantime, Saanich was also upgrading the Pearkes Recreation facilities. Our then president, Paul Gerrard leapt at the opportunity and began to push for a library branch at that site. It was at this time that the property owners, Saanich and Rio Can, realized that it might be to their mutual benefit to work together for a common goal. All during this time, we were quietly pushing the results of our design charrette and local area plan for consideration. While it took close to two years to get to the stage of approving the development permits, it is the process that got us there that is most important. The old days of land owners being the only ones bringing ideas for land use forward are over. In today’s world communities must inform themselves so that they can work in partnership with both landowners and land users to get the highest and best use for the benefits of the community. That use might be to leave the land as natural eco system or it might mean densities that break the mold but save other lands from development and use our tax funded infrastructure more efficiently thereby saving on future tax increases. Another key element to this particular project and developer is the willingness to invest outside their borders. Rio Can is putting significant dollars toward a daycare in Pearkes, money toward Cuthbert Holmes Park, streetscape enhancements for Tillicum Road, and money for affordable housing. They are also being flexible on the details on how some of these dollars are invested and will be at the tables when those discussions are held. I don’t know of too many of my neighbours who would think that investing in my property would be a good thing. Since the revitalization of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association we have taken the approach that we must be part of the process for what ever was going on in our community, we must be proactive in seeking solutions to our local issues and we must demonstrate leadership and respect for all others. So, to all those who have interests in a sustainable future, the Gorge Tillicum Community is now the leader. We have created the precedent of a healthy partnership with a large property owner and Saanich to take our local community forward for the benefit of our children and their children. We have set the bar higher and we have a long way to go to get it right, but with the right partners and willingness to seek solutions I am confident we will get there. Rob Wickson President Gorge Tillicum Community Association