Traffic troubles around Uptown

Uptown gets earful over layout, traffic
Difficult to judge final product in mid-construction, says developer
By Kim Westad, Times Colonist January 12, 2011

Uptown Shopping Centre has been touted as the design of the future when it comes to malls, but critics say it looks like more of a white elephant.

“It’s badly designed, focusing inward instead of outward,” Saanich resident Rob Wickson said Tuesday. “I look at it and see missed opportunities.”

Several residents took shots at the Douglas Street development at a Saanich council meeting this week, and politicians also said they’ve had numerous complaints about the look of and accessibility to the site.

Geoff Nagle, spokesman for Morguard Investments which owns the development, cautioned that it’s difficult to judge the final product when it is still in the midst of construction.

The first phase of Uptown is complete and the second soon to start on the site, sandwiched between Douglas and Blanshard streets at the former Town and Country mall site.

Instead of a covered mall, Uptown tries to recreate more of a small downtown feel, with streets and exterior access to stores.

The Future Shop building at the corner of Saanich Road and Douglas Street recently won an award for best new commercial mixed-use building.

“It may have won an award, but a great number of residents would greet that with a fair amount of derision,” Coun. Vic Derman said. “People say it doesn’t look inviting. That’s the more polite comment.”

The comments came this week as Nagle asked for some changes to the plan for the second phase of the development.

A proposed green roof on one building was reduced to 35 per cent of the roof, so the remainder could be used for outdoor seating for a potential restaurant.

Most of the proposed changes won’t be perceptible to the public, Saanich staff said. All but Coun. Dean Murdock voted in favour of the changes. Murdock said he couldn’t see the positive for the public in the changes.

But the meeting was largely an airing of concerns council had or had heard from constituents about the $350-million development.

“Overwhelmingly, the feedback I get is that from the outside, it appears to be very imposing, almost monolithic and not inviting to pedestrians or cyclists from either side,” said Murdock.

Coun. Judy Brownoff asked when promised plants that are to trail over the front of the award-winning building to soften the look would be planted, only to learn they already have been but missed the growing season this year.

Almost all of council said they’ve received comments from citizens about the look of the development, ranging from the “armoured facade” at the corner of Douglas Street and Saanich Road to difficulty navigating once inside.

Coun. Susan Brice asked about the proposed town plaza, one of the selling points of the development.

“What you see today is not the plaza,” Nagle said. “That is a very temporary construction situation.”

The Italian cast iron kiosks will have berms and plantings around them, so they aren’t as dominant as they are now.

“We’re upsizing the size of the plants. I had a hissy fit when they arrived. They weren’t big enough,” Nagle said.

A water feature at the corner of Blanshard Street and Saanich Road will likely open in early spring. It will showcase a 2.5-metre bronze sculpture, with a fountain and pond surrounding it.

Brownoff is also concerned about traffic and pedestrians crossing busy Saanich Road to get from the Save-On Plaza to Uptown.

“It’s just a matter of time until there’s an accident,” Brownoff said. “I see pedestrians cutting across too.”

She made a motion that Saanich let the province, responsible for that road, know of their concerns.