Are We Becoming Village People?
No, I am not talking about that silly 1970s music troupe that is forever in our heads with such annoyingly catchy tunes as “YMCA”, but rather about our ability as Esquimalt residents to get out of cars and become compatible with Municipal Hall’s exciting new plans for a pedestrian-oriented Esquimalt Village Centre.
For decades, Esquimalt’s “centre” has been a driver-oriented Esquimalt Plaza where local residents mostly drive in, park, shop, and drive away. It has been a habit that is bad for community development, bad for green community sustainability, and bad for community aesthetics. It is very dated urban planning that needs to be changed if we are serious about revitalizing our community. Hence, Esquimalt is moving in a new direction with its Esquimalt Village Project.
The objectives of the project are to:
- Create a lively and sustainable Esquimalt town centre, which incorporates a mix of uses and community recreation needs;
- Revitalize Esquimalt’s town core and enhance community economic development, while providing residents with a wider range of amenities and services;
- Capitalize on and enhance the value of public and private assets in the core;
- Enhance sustainability of municipal facilities and infrastructure
Originally, plans were much more ambitious calling for a huge overhaul of both public and private lands (including the existing Esquimalt Plaza) stretching all the way from the Archie Browning Centre to Admirals Road. Plans have since been scaled back to just municipally-owned lands (essentially the old Municipal Hall and Public Works Yard site).
Tasked with developing the “village plan”, planning consultants Hotson, Bakker, Boniface, Haden, and Landeca have been busy these past few months with ongoing presentations to Council and an Open House public input session.
The result is two viable options for mixed-use Village Core development, with retail, residential & civic uses, connected by a more enhanced Thornton Walk, pedestrian-oriented plaza with a varied architectural concept of differing heights, stepped buildings, non-visible underground parking, shops, restaurants, and possibly even a major public attraction such as a proposed “Children’s Museum”. It would become the city core of Esquimalt with high density surrounded by services easily accessible by foot and bicycle. Generally speaking, Option 1 would have a little more publicly-funded civic use while Option 2 would tilt more towards privately-funded residential uses.
The public like what they see. Over 100 people attended the Open House with feedback being summarized as:
- Strong support for mixed-use concept and revitalization of the old Hall and Public Works Yard
- Strong support for an enhanced Town Square or plaza fronting on Esquimalt Road
- General preference for Option 2, which integrates civic use within a mixed-use building
- General support for the form, density and height of development – some would prefer lower buildings while others encourage consideration of higher buildings
- Strong support to see the project move forward – “This idea/vision is long overdue in the Esquimalt area” summing up the general public mood.
Option 2 was the clear favourite with 49% of support while Option 1 was preferred by only 21%. The remaining 30% had no particular preference.
Now, it is up to Council to make the final decision and begin the process of major revitalization for Esquimalt’s urban core. As we enter a new decade, we can also prepare to enter a new and improved Esquimalt.
More information available at: http://www.esquimalt.ca/municipalHall/esquimaltVillageProject/