There is obvious activity these days on the old Safeway block at Main and Kipp.
A rezoning sign went up and the building is coming down in preparation for the long-awaited redevelopment.
But what is different is that the rezoning approval for the site this week at city hall was not applicant-driven, but rather spearheaded by city council — pre-emptively to shape the evolution of the downtown core.
It’s a deliberate effort to make the zoning dovetail with vision of the Downtown plan in the Official Community Plan, with some of the highest density compared to anywhere in Chilliwack.
Council approved rezoning of the entire block, with multiple properties going from commercial, to high-density multi-family residential, and commercial, as well as a CD 15, (comprehensive development) zoning, at the public hearing Tuesday night.
Whoever eventually buys the property will have the option of rezoning again, should they decide to, or stick to the downtown vision of increasing residential zoning with higher density R6, and commercial at the ground floor level, and residential above.
The former Safeway site has seven properties on it with a combined area of about three acres, bounded by Main Street, Kipp Avenue, Mary Street and Princess Avenue.
It is “a bit unusual” for council to take the bull by the horns in this way, Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz told The Progress this week.
“But we never had a situation like this in Chilliwack, where a key downtown property is basically abandoned the way this one was,” she said.
Sobeys Inc. purchased all of Canada Safeway’s assets in November 2013, and the Sobeys affiliated company, SDLP Snowcat Limited is the registered owner of the Chilliwack properties that make up the old Safeway site.
Many are ready to see the storefront come down, and anticipate it might be the piece that kickstarts redevelopment.
“This is exciting times for the downtown. It’s downtown’s time,” Gaetz said after the rezoning was approved by council. She also thanked Snowcat officials for being “responsive” by agreeing to demolish the old buildings, and put the property up for sale.
It’s being listed for $3.2 million.
Coun. Chuck Stam noted the old Safeway site was “a bone of contention” in the downtown for a long time.
“It’s good to see the land use question put to bed.”
The entire block has been singled out repeatedly to point out its centralized and pivotal location.
“It was identified in our plan as a potential catalyst for downtown revitalization and redevelopment, and that is what we hope to show, all the potential, as part of our future vision for Chilliwack’s downtown.
“This sets out a bold vision of the direction the city wants to go in,” added the mayor. “It sends a message to anyone interested that we are ready to move forward to build neighbourhoods.”
Coun. Jason Lum noted the increased density will make the property even more valuable and easier to market.
“It signifies energy in the downtown,” he said.
The Chilliwack Downtown Business Improvement Association came out in support because of the significant potential.
In a letter from BIA president Alvin Bartel, he wrote: “The group of properties that make up this site offer significant opportunity for commercial and residential development, and can be a catalyst for much needed revitalization in that area.
“The BIA has been in support of the City’s downtown revitalization efforts, and feel that amending the current zoning of this site into RB (High Density Multi-Family Residential) and CD-15 (Comprehensive Development-15) will help maintain that direction.”
Rezoning will also become that extra step in the process that future developers will not have to undertake in the process, Gaetz said.
Demolition of the exterior of the old Safeway building should start by Friday or early next week, and contractors have been working on the interior demolition prep, including abatement of any hazardous material found on-site. The report on what was found was not made public yet.