An affordable housing project once thought to be in doubt could be back before council next year as its proponent prepares to present revised plans to the board of the organization representing local residents.
Revised plans for the redevelopment of Townley Lodge will be on the agenda Jan. 12 when representatives of the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) will meet with board members of the Camosun Community Association less than three months after the concerns about the project had convinced council to indefinitely delay a public hearing.
This decision derailed the society’s funding scheme for the project, drew public criticism from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and threatened to diminish the stock of affordable housing in Saanich as the GVHS considered selling the complex among other options.
This possibility now appears to be less imminent and the pending meeting stokes hope of a compromise. “We have always said there are multiple options and only one option was to sell,” said Kaye Melliship, GVHS executive director. “We have been able to come up with another design that achieves almost everything we are trying to achieve and we need to see what the [residents association] thinks.”
While the association acknowledged the additional need for affordable housing in Saanich, it opposed initial redevelopment plans for Townley Lodge when council first considered them on Oct. 24.
Located south of Lansdowne middle school between Shelbourne and Richmond streets, Townley Lodge consists out of 39 low-income rental units for seniors.
The GVHS – which owns both the building and 5,328-square-metre property on which it stands, along with other properties in the Victoria area – was planning to replace these old units with 67 affordable housing units for seniors, families and the disabled spread across four housing types.
They included a four-storey apartment building that drew most of the ire from opponents, who acknowledged the additional need for affordable housing, but successfully argued that the project, particularly the four-storey apartment, would have undermined the character of their single-residential neighbourhood, depressed property values and diminished quality of life by reducing available green space and sunlight.
Melliship did not offer specifics about the two alternate designs that the GVHS plans to present to the board of the local residents association.
“The goal is to try to achieve almost the same number of units as proposed before,” she said. “In order to get the number of units we need, the design can’t be significantly different. But there will be no fourth floor, as we heard loud and clear that is [a] non-starter.”
Other design elements, meanwhile, will remain the same, she said.
“We will still be providing housing for seniors and for families and we will still have underground parking for the seniors and surface parking for the family townhouses,” Melliship said.
If the association board offers acceptable feedback, the GVHS will ask for feedback from neighbours at large to see whether the association and the neighbours are of one mind, she said.
“As you know, the comments from the council meeting were not all unanimous,” she said. “Some people will accept a three-storey building, some want the lawn and trees protected at all costs, some want only a two-storey building. We want to see if a plan that still achieves the density we need is acceptable before we move to other options such as selling.”
Equally unclear is the funding structure for any future redevelopment of Townley Lodge, estimated at $18 million. Council’s decision to postpone a public hearing for GVHS’ initial proposal eventually meant that the society could no longer count on $6 million in financial support from Ottawa, a fact Melliship confirmed.
“We cannot meet the funding deadline for the $6 million that was committed for our project – those funds will be allocated to other projects around the province,” she said. “That was a good program as it was a grant, the amount was sufficient to achieve the affordable rents we want and the terms of the operating agreement were acceptable to GVHS. We are now in the queue for another funding program and our success there will depend on whether we can get an economically viable design approved by the municipality.”
Melliship said GVHS has not yet talked with municipal officials about its new plans. “Based on the decision [council made], we thought the best approach was to start with the [local residents association] to see what they say, move to a meeting with the neighbours, consider the results of these two dialogues and then decide what to do,” she said.