by Roger Stonebanks
Now that the 26-acre Trio property has sold for $6.1 million to Aragon Properties (a Vancouver land development company with ideas for a major residential project plus a commercial component) attention has turned to sometimes-forgotten Cordova Bay Plaza, just over two kilometres to the south.
The plaza is a 1960 strip mall that became trapped in a neighbour’s underground gasoline pollution problem. The public was well aware that there was a pollution problem at the nearby site of a Payless (owned by Shell Products Canada) gas station, which closed in 1997. According to the Cordova Bay’s newsletter, The Cordovan, Payless officials admitted at a general meeting of the Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs on Jan. 21, 1998 that “the gas station site is contaminated and is now being remediated. Off-site contamination has not yet been tackled.”
It was in the summer of 1997 that the plaza informed tenants that it intended “very soon” to seek a Development Permit for a new shopping centre. In 1999 Saanich council, after public input, approved a new and much larger shopping centre as well as shops and 16 apartments in one three-storey building and a separate bank building. But council withheld issuance of the development permit pending two conditions being met: consolidation of the two lots that comprise the plaza property; and, importantly, confirmation from the Ministry of the Environment that no site remediation was required. There was no such confirmation. The plaza pollution saga was under way.
There were years of pollution remediation by Shell Products Canada as well as regular test
drilling nearby to monitor the spread of underground gasoline. A lawsuit and counter-suit in BC Supreme Court, started in 2003, and was settled out of court in 2010, with agreement that all details be kept confidential.
Scotiabank, which had intentions to build on the site, had to make do for a number of years in a double-wide trailer in the plaza parking lot, until it eventually moved into the south end of the mall.
Finally, on May 18, 2012, a Certificate of Compliance for the plaza property was issued by the BC Ministry of the Environment “regarding remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon and dissolved metal contamination” that migrated to the plaza from the Payless property at 5146 Cordova Bay Road. The certificate states that the plaza property has been “satisfactorily remediated to meet Contamination Sites Regulation Standards for commercial land soil use and marine aquatic water use and Hazardous Waste Regulation standards.”
But, the ministry cautioned that it made no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information received by the ministry on which the certificate was based. “This Certificate of Compliance should not be construed as an assurance that there are no hazards present on the site described above,” said the ministry.
Since then, no action has been taken by Your Family Food Mart Ltd., the plaza owner, to develop or sell the property. There are seven shops at the plaza, which is anchored by Tru-Value Foods. Currently, two shops are vacant.
Saanich Voice Online asked the plaza’s spokesperson, Brenda Ferguson, for an update.
“Most leases in the plaza run until Spring 2017 with Tru Value Foods being the largest tenant,” she said. “We have a vacancy in the old bakery [Euphorium Bakery] and since we have been trying to offer a lease that does not go beyond Spring 2017; it has proven very difficult to lease the vacant space.”
The plaza has “no immediate plans” for redevelopment given that the leases run until 2017 “but there has been lots of interest from buyers who would like to develop the site with no commitment from the owners to sell.” She added, “We seem to be in limbo. Now would certainly be a good time to think about redevelopment with the Trio site now sold.”
Whatever commercial-residential development plan for the plaza eventually goes ahead, it will have a significantly bigger building imprint on the property than the current strip mall. To give a sense of that change – the plan approved in 1999 was for 3,586 square metres of commercial floor space or 38,599 square feet. This was to include a supermarket three times bigger than the present 7,500 square foot grocery and extending west into open space behind the mall. Shops with apartments above them would be in a three-storey building on the south side of the property which now is green space. Scotiabank would be in a separate building in the northeast corner.
In the meantime, redevelopment is still “On Hold.” And despite the mall’s age, the plaza and its tenants have worked well to renovate and improve the appearance of the mall and grounds, including significant internal improvements to the supermarket when Tru Value Foods became the tenant in 2012.
Roger Stonebanks was a reporter for the Island’s daily when it was called the Victoria Daily Times and from 1980 the Victoria Times Colonist. He’s published two books and loves living in Cordova Bay with his wife, Helen.