Sooke's Innovative Town Centre Takes Shape

Sooke has looked long term to develop a new Town Centre and created an innovative policy framework to realize this goal.

In 2001 the Sooke Official Community Plan set a mandate to develop long term planning objectives. This vision was built upon by the District of Sooke Design Guidelines (2006) and later the Sooke Town Centre Plan (2009). Sooke has experienced sustained increased growth as nearby Victoria and Langford have developed.

Using smart-growth principles and sustainability goals, the community has been able to guide its new growth to realize long-term planning. Integral to the Town Centre Plan vision is the establishment of a Town Centre that is "a well defined, compact, mixed-use ‘village core’.

The primary objectives of the Town Centre Plan are to develop the area south of Sooke Road, establishing a new main street that links to both Sooke Road and the town’s waterfront. Development around this new main street, provisionally named ‘Waterview Street’, will see predominately townhouses and apartment buildings mixed with pedestrian friendly commercial and public development.

Together they will form a new main street with a wide promenade, primarily four storey commercial residential development, public uses such as art and cultural facilities, a public plaza, relocated library, and a farmers market.

Engagement and Governance

Envisioning Sooke’s Town Centre has been a community effort. In April 2008 a charrette was organized, bringing together representatives from various local organizations and property owners who participated in a one-day brainstorming session to generate ideas and support for the new Town Centre.

The results of the charrette were presented to the Sooke Council in 2008, along with a Town Centre Assessment, prepared by Dennis Carlsen Consulting, D’Ambrosio Architecture and Urbanism, and Boulevard Transportation Group.

Policy Framework

The District of Sooke Design Guidelines (2006) and the Sooke Town Centre Plan (2009) form the basic policy framework to guide the development of the Town Centre area. Furthermore, council has adopted a variety of other policy tools to encourage the desired environmentally-conscious development, brought together in the Sooke Town Centre Revitalization Bylaw, 2009.

With the bylaw, council may offer significant financial incentives for developments that are commercial, high density (50 units/hectare), LEED certified, and eligible housing (not-for-profit and affordable housing). Eligible developments are offered:

In addition to the above incentives, the bylaw established the Capital Improvement Financing Reserve Program (CIFRP). The District of Sooke will deposit any municipal property taxes generated from new developments in the Town Centre area (as of 2009) and match that amount through other revenue sources. All capital deposited into the CIFRP will subsequently be invested in projects within the Town centre Area, such as cycling paths.

In 2010, Official Community Plan was updated, incorporating a section on the Town Centre revitalization project. See ‘Resources’ below for further information regarding zoning bylaw development.)

 

Implementation

Looking toward 2050, the Town Centre Revitalization has an extensive timeframe and is conceived of in phases, the first one ending in 2020. By 2050, it is expected that the Town Centre will accommodate approximately 1,400 residents.

Beyond the ‘phased’ approach, the District has set strategic short term goals. The Strategic Plan 2009-2011 outlines numerous actions that relate to the Town Centre area, including sidewalk improvements and a review of the Sooke Zoning Bylaw.

Barriers & Breakthroughs

Although the 2008 charrette was successful, previous attempts at citizen engagement were not as productive. In 2004 the Downtown Revitalization Committee, a group comprised of local volunteers, District staff, councillors, and the Mayor, made numerous attempts at engaging Sooke residents to envision a new Town Centre. Initial attempts at gaining feedback through a public survey received only minimal response.

However, later initiatives, such as information booths at local events proved more successful in developing a citizen led vision for the Town Centre, as seen in the 2006 District Design Guidelines. The citizen engagement strategy during the creation of the 2009 Town Centre Plan opted to use the charrette model. This model has proven to be very effective for many local governments. (See below for further information on using charrettes.)

New Challenges

A central challenge in developing the Town Centre plan is working with current land-use patterns in Sooke. Like many areas, no long-term plan existed to guide the Town’s growth, and this led to piecemeal development. Specific ramifications include: diminished public access to the waterfront due to private development; a main road, the West Coast Road that is unsafe for pedestrians; and a low population and commercial density, that makes it difficult to support a vibrant Town Centre.

The Zoning Bylaw is integral to the realization of the Town Centre revitalization. As mentioned, the Bylaw needs updates. Completed in 2006, it does not incorporate key policies developed since then, such as those contained in the Town Centre Plan. As part of the Strategic Plan 2009-2011, a new Town Centre Zone is to be created upon the completion of the 2010 Official Community Plan. The Town Centre Zone will allow for high density development and a broad range of land uses. While this update is still underway, the recent Mariner’s Village Comprehensive Development Zone (Bylaw No. 405, 2009) is serving as the model zoning template for the Town Centre.

Results

Numerous projects begun since the Town Centre Plan was ratified, all working towards the overall goals of the plan. With funding from the Province’s ‘Spirit Squares ProgramEd MacGregor park, located in the Town Centre Area, will see important public space revitalization. On a larger scale, the LEED targeted ‘Mariner’s Village’ is the first major development in the Town Centre area, providing residential and commercial units, a public boardwalk, and a medical facility. This development has benefited from the Sooke Town Centre Revitalization Bylaw, 2009.

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