A 2.4-metre high fence with spikes on top was installed at the 844 Johnson St. building in 2017. BC Housing did not have a permit to put the fence up, which is double the height permitted by local bylaws. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

‘Fortress-like’ fence keeping Victoria and BC Housing divided

The 2.4-metre fence is double the permitted height and topped with spikes

A large, long wrought iron fence along Pandora Avenue is a matter of contention between the City of Victoria and BC Housing.

The property at 844 Johnson St., known as the Johnson Street Community, is run by PHS Community Services Society but is owned by BC Housing. The Johnson Street Community houses people who would otherwise be homeless, many of whom previously lived in Victoria’s tent city.

In 2017, BC Housing opted to build a large fence on the Pandora Avenue portion of the property. The black, metal fence stands at 2.4 metres tall and has spikes on top. But City of Victoria bylaws only permits fences under 1.22 metres, without spikes.

ALSO READ: Small fire at 844 Johnson St. contained by Victoria fire crews

BC Housing did not have a variance permit when it put up the fence but went ahead to address what it calls safety issues.

“BC Housing originally constructed the fence to ensure the safety of the residents and to address security concerns regarding people accessing the building who did not live there,” said BC Housing in an emailed statement.

For more than two years the City of Victoria and BC Housing have had ongoing discussions on the fence. In August, BC Housing put forward an application for a development permit with a variance for the fence, but city staff are not happy with it.

In a report coming to the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, staff recommend council decline BC Housing’s application due to a number of factors, including a lack of public consultation, a lack of studies into accessibility effects and a lack of studies into sustainability features. BC Housing has also failed to meet the regularly-outlined aesthetic requirements.

ALSO READ: Victoria woman experiencing homelessness wants systematic changes as she faces losing her truck

“The guidelines note that fences and gates must not contribute to a ‘fortress’ appearance from the street,” the report reads. “The fortress-like appearance is a result of the excessive height and the spear-like tips at the top of the fence. Approval of this fence could also set a design standard in which other buildings along Pandora Avenue install similar fences, which would contribute to the public’s perception of whether the street or area is safe or not.”

BC Housing said it will comply with the council’s decision.

“At the suggestion of the City of Victoria, BC Housing submitted a variance permit for the fence and will comply with city requirements, including replacing the fence if needed.”

If council votes to decline the application, BC Housing will need to remove or revise the fence to better meet the guidelines.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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