Chamber critical of Saanich council over Townley Lodge

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce takes aim at Saanich's handling of affordable housing development

Saanich council is facing criticism since postponing the public hearing on the Greater Victoria Housing Society's proposed redevelopment of Townley Lodge.

Saanich’s decision to postpone the proposed redevelopment of an affordable housing complex has drawn sharp criticism from officials of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

Writing in the chamber’s weekly newsletter, chief executive officer Catherine Holt singled out Saanich council’s unanimous vote to postpone a public redevelopment of Townley Lodge as an example of “hemming and hawing on housing” by local municipal councils.

“Local business owners and leaders are increasingly concerned about the scarcity of affordable housing – private and subsidized – available to our workforce, particularly to those earning low to moderate incomes,” Holt writes. “Municipal processes must help us address the problem – not become part of it.”

Holt confirmed and expanded those comments in an interview.

Affordable housing tops the agenda of the chamber heading into 2017, she said.

“That’s a big issue for our members,” Holt said. “This [the proposed redevelopment of Townley] is a specific example that would have helped in that regard.”

Council last month postponed the public hearing on the proposed $18-milllion redevelopment of Townley Lodge after hearing concerns from area residents over the density and height of the proposed complex that would replace the existing structure that the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) has owned and operated since 1967 in a residential neighbourhood near Lansdowne middle school. The proposal would replace 39 low-income rental units for seniors with 67 affordable housing units for seniors, families and the disabled across four housing types, including a four-storey apartment building.

The GVHS has since announced it might sell the property because council’s decision now makes it impossible to meet a deadline set by the federal government, which had promised $6 million towards the project.

The prospect of a potential sale has caused considerable anxiety among current Townley Lodge residents, a point picked up by Peggy Kulmala, the chamber’s policy and public affairs manager.

“These are real lives being impacted [by council’s] decision,” she said.

In fact, the proposed sale raises the possibility that a project designed to increase the supply of affordable housing might actually end up decreasing it.

While critics of the proposed complex agreed with the need for additional affordable housing, they successfully convinced council that the proposal as presented would diminish their property values and quality of life.

Various Saanich council members have since argued GVHS did not do enough to earn neighbourhood support while expressing hope that a down-scaled version of the project could eventually secure approval.

Holt, however, noted the GVHS – which she called a “credible proponent” – had done everything reasonable to work with council and community towards creating affordable housing in a convenient, accessible location, echoing comments that appear in the chamber newsletter.

“In short, municipal councils are allowing the loud minority to slow the creation of new housing supply and needed amenities, overlooking the benefit affordable housing has on community vibrancy, local businesses and municipal revenue generation,” it reads.

For council to ask the GVHS to come forward with a revised proposal is not reasonable and would lead to “unnecessary costs”  through delays and redesigning costs, Holt added.

“Ideally, the Saanich council would reconvene now and approve the project and help the Greater Victoria Housing Society with their application to the federal government,” she said.

Holt said the chamber – which sent a formal letter to Saanich council Friday – has followed the issue through the official minutes and GVHS’ board chair Ian Batey, who sits on the chamber’s policy and government affairs committee.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said in a released statement Thursday that the district is aware of the concerns that have been raised regarding the redevelopment of Townley Lodge.

 

“However, it is crucial to note that council’s role is to ensure all views are adequately heard, and that development proponents have an adequate opportunity to respond, before moving forward towards a decision,” he said. “The district’s goal is to facilitate the best possible outcomes in the interests of all involved.”

 

 

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