A Saanich councillor says he still believes an affordable housing project currently in the balance could go ahead — if the project reduces its proposed height.
Coun. Colin Plant made these comments after the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) said it is considering the sale of Townley Lodge, an affordable housing complex that it has owned and operated since 1967.
Selling Townley Lodge ranks among the “three most viable options” facing the GVHS after Saanich council unanimously postponed a public hearing for plans to redevelop the complex, Kaye Melliship, the executive director of the non-profit society, said last week.
Council postponed the public hearing on the project after residents had raised concerns about the plans GVHS had submitted for Townley Lodge.
It was planning to 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.
Plant said that he was “obviously disappointed” that GVHS has been thinking about selling the property,“but they have to do what is best for their organization.”
He, however, believes that a revised version of the project could go ahead.
“If they were to come back with a three-storey [building], that is likely something that the community could support,” he said.
Sandi Menzies, president of the Camosun Community Association, echoed that point.
“From our perspective, it [height] is the major concern,” she said.
Menzies predicted that the neighbourhood association and local residents “would likely support” the project if the GVHS were to take one storey off the proposed four-storey apartment and set it farther back on the side facing the community.
While Menzies acknowledged that such a move would reduce the amount of available units, specific details could be worked out in the future.
GVHS has said in the past that their proposal as presented last month represents the best reconciliation of its mandate to supply affordable housing in light of financial realities.
Menzies stressed that her organization, which opposes the project, and other critics are not against affordable housing per se. She said the association along with opposed neighbours have had a “good rapport” with Townley Lodge and its residents for decades.
“And because we have lived with it for so many years, we are not against [affordable housing],” she said.
Citing the lack of affordable housing, Saanich staff expressed support for the project. Menzies and critics, however, have argued that approval would undermine local areas. “It was almost as if affordable housing trumped local area plans,” she said.
Plant said staff was responding to council’s desire to see more affordable housing. But GVHS, Plant said, was asking council to do more than approve a development permit.
It was asking for zoning variances, variances that require community support in addition to council’s formal approval.
“It has to be a good fit,” he said. “We don’t want winners or losers.”
Plant said he remains hopeful that the GVHS would not abandon the project and retain at “a bare minimum” current operations. “The idea of selling would be very unfortunate,” he said.
The ball, though, he says, is now in the “court” of the GVHS.
Menzies echoed that point.
“The community association cannot dictate what the GVHS does,” she said.