Kashmira Terry smells a sample of dried flower at the opening of Clarity Cannabis in Langford. It is the first legal cannabis retailer in the city. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Year in review: Top issues on the West Shore in 2019

Housing, transportation, cannabis and public safety were top issues this year

The West Shore had a busy 2019 with issues varying from housing to public safety. Legalization of cannabis brought new business to the Western Communities and commuters faced challenges – both new and old – when it came to transportation and transit. Here is a wrap-up of some of the top issues covered in 2019.

Housing

The West Shore saw movement on various affordable housing projects in 2019.

Langford Mayor Stew Young, Belmont Residences and Devon Properties announced details about the Crossing at Belmont development’s rent-to-own program in the spring, launching one of the first programs like it on Vancouver Island. A new 132-unit affordable housing development in Langford – Millstream Ridge – was also completed early in the year, bringing the number of new rental units in the city to 382, as part of the Regional Housing First Program run by the CRD, province and federal government.

A sneak preview into Belmont Crossing rental units which are part of a rent-to-own program was offered on Thursday. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

The stalled Wale Road development site in Colwood started to move forward this year with a land blessing ceremony over the summer with Esquimalt Nation spiritual elders. A development permit was also issued to the Aboriginal Land Trust for 124 units of affordable housing at the site. The Royal Bay developments propelled forward this year with new neighbourhoods on Colwood’s waterfront taking shape.

The Town of View Royal considered an application to build not-for-profit rental apartments for the first time in its history near Thetis Lake.

West Shore residents also shared their stories of struggling to find housing.

A 23-year-old home care aid seeking an affordable place to live on the West Shore got caught up in a rental scam in Langford in May – one of many, according to West Shore RCMP.

Residents also voiced concerns about developments and development proposals on the West Shore. Many spoke up about how nearby blasting and litter from construction sites affected them while others took their fight to city hall over a large south Langford development.

Cannabis

Although recreational cannabis use was legalized in October 2018, the West Shore didn’t see its first legal retail cannabis store until one year later.

Langford council approved its first recreational cannabis store – the first to be approved in the region – in March. The second recreational cannabis store was approved by the City about one month later and a third one got its blessing from council in the fall. The three locations are owned by three different operators and saw little to no pushback from the community, said Young.

In the spring, Colwood began exploring options for retail cannabis sales, making plans to investigate further what other municipalities are doing from a policy standpoint. But in May, Colwood Mayor Rob Martin said the City wants to take things a little slower.

“Council is not in a rush to do things, we want to make sure we do it in a correct way,” he said at the time.

The West Shore RCMP also brought on a cannabis liaison officer in the spring to facilitate education around cannabis use and related regulations. The officer, Const. Don McIntosh, has already spent time with the community holding talks with parents at schools to discuss how legalization affects youths.

Transportation and Infrastructure

Various solutions to challenges with transportation and infrastructure came up in the last year from bus lanes to commuter ferries.

Early in the year, BC Transit announced it would start finalizing designs for transit priority infrastructure along Island Highway. Plans include transit priority on Island Highway at the intersections of Goldstream Avenue and Wale Road. It would involve equipping 55 buses with equipment to interact with traffic signals. Queue jump lanes in Colwood are also in the works.

Construction for Sooke Road priority bus lanes in Langford began in March and is part of a suite of upgrades for the Highway 14 corridor.

Plans for a West Shore passenger ferry also started to sail ahead in 2019 after support from Colwood and Esquimalt.

The location of the ferry terminal would tentatively be on the Royal Bay waterfront.

A Damen Fast Ferry 3209. BC Ferries are considering buying five of the vessels. (Courtesy of Damen)

“A ferry from Royal Beach in Colwood to downtown Victoria has the potential to take about 1,000 vehicles out of the commute, as well as being a unique excursion for tourists,” said Martin in July.

A February announcement from BC Transit said park and ride options on the West Shore were narrowed to three locations but are still in early phases. Luxton Fairgrounds was ranked as the best option for a long-term park and ride facility.

Station Avenue near Veterans Memorial Parkway was ranked number one for a near-term location.

The Colwood interchange location was ranked third, preceded by a proposed park and ride at Goldstream Avenue and Peatt Road.

Jonathon Dyck, spokesperson for BC Transit said in the new year, compressed natural gas buses will be housed at a facility in Langford. Commuters from the West Shore into Victoria can also expect to see some traffic relief.

“Bus lanes from Burnside Bridge to Tolmie Avenue will help commuters coming in from the West Shore,” Dyck said. “There will be new buses coming too.”

Work is expected to continue on bus queue jump lanes in View Royal and Colwood, Dyck said.

Public safety

The West Shore kept busy in terms of public safety, with crimes and tragic events making headlines in 2019.

Greater Victoria’s overdose numbers doubled over the summer, prompting an alert from Island Health cautioning the public and drug users about a stronger supply of drugs on the Island. The warning came around the same time a West Shore teenager died of a suspected fentanyl overdose. A memorial saw classmates, friends and family make their way down to the Esquimalt Lagoon in droves to console each other and remember her.

Kyla Johnson embraces a friend of 16-year-old Abby Barker. Johnson is Barker’s older sister. Barker, a 16-year-old West Shore girl died earlier this month from what family are saying is a suspected overdose. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

A 60-year-old Metchosin man was also found dead in his home over the summer and police said foul play was involved in Martin Payne’s death. West Shore RCMP said they identified persons of interest in his death and that police believe the public is not at risk.

A prison escape from Metchosin’s William Head Insitution that took place shortly before the Payne’s death was a hot topic throughout the summer and into the fall. In early July, two inmates escaped from the prison and were re-captured two days later in Esquimalt when an off-duty RCMP officer recognized them. One of the inmates was serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault, the other was serving a sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences. Their escape has led officials to question security at the prison and a delayed notification to surrounding neighbours has left them asking for better communication from the institution in cases such as this one.

Two shootings also took place in Langford within the same month.

A shooting at the beginning of April on Jacklin Road left one man in hospital and police said it was a targeted incident. In the fall, West Shore RCMP said a man was arrested and charged in connection to the shooting.

A Langford home in the 2800-block of Jacklin Road cordoned off by police tape after reports of a shooting, taken on Friday, April 5. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

At the end of April, another shooting took place outside of Happy Valley Market in Langford. A 27-year-old man was charged.

A story released by The Goldstream News Gazette told of trends in disturbing sexual behaviours in youths as well as a significant climb in crime, according to experienced counsellors on the West Shore. Youth gangs and sexual exploitation of youths have become troubling issues in the region, they said, and the West Shore is not excluded.

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Becky Barker, 14, consoles her nephew Cole Johnson, 7, at a pre memorial for 16-year-old Abby Barker at the Esquimalt Lagoon. Abby died suddenly on Thursday from what family are saying is a suspected overdose. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

(Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

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