Proposed tallest building in Saanich clears another hurdle

Community association president questions whether project will increase local rental stock

Saanich council gave approval to the fourth and final phase of the Uptown development that will include 134 rental units and 5

Plans for what will be the tallest building in Saanich promise to improve the local supply of affordable housing, but a local community leader is not so sure in calling for a “broader conversation” about the affordability of housing in Saanich.

Council last week approved the fourth and final phase of the so-called Uptown development following a public hearing.

This approval paves the way for the construction of a 14-storey building at the southeast corner of Carey Way and Ravine Way that would include 134 rental units, more than 5,000 square-metres of retail space and additional parking.

Sixty per cent of the approved units spread across 127 apartments and seven townhouses would be affordable for a working couple earning about $15 per hour each, according to documents submitted by applicant Morguard Investments Limited on behalf of the pension fund that owns Uptown.

The approved development will “significantly” increase the supply of purpose-built rental homes in Saanich, according to a Saanich staff report.

But Carol Hamill of the Mount View Colquitz Community Association (MVCCA) questioned this claim in an interview.

While her organization is “very supportive” of any project that increases the number of rental units in Saanich, she does not believe that this particular project will add more units, in echoing points that she made in a letter to council on behalf of the community association.

“I just want to be clear that although we welcome the construction of rental units, the net gain of rental space is limited,” she wrote. “The conventional wisdom is that older units will become available as a result of new rental units, (but) that principle does not apply to ‘high-end renters.’” Saanich renters, in other words, will “‘not move up’” to the new rental units, because the project advertises itself to high-end renters. “As a result, very few existing rental units will be vacated,” she wrote.

She also noted that the “people who work in the Uptown mall will not be able to afford to rent in the Uptown housing. It is difficult to imagine how any highrise tower can be both a beautiful design and also affordable to rent.”

Coun. Colin Plant said in an interview that the fourth phase of the Uptown development will be a “positive” for Saanich, because like the rest of the Greater Victoria area, rental housing “is not something that we have an excess of.”

But Plant also qualified his praise for the project in acknowledging some of the concerns Hamill raised.

“I am satisfied to a degree (about the project), but I would have liked to have seen units in the building that would have been available to people making less than $30 an hour as a couple,” he said in promising to push for policies to improve the stock of affordable housing.

Saanich, unlike other communities, currently lacks a policy that asks developers of multi-unit developments to set aside specific amounts of affordable housing as a condition of development approval.

“It [affordable housing] was something that we have to ask for,” said Plant.

What Plant describes appears in the literature as inclusionary zoning. It has become increasingly popular across Canada as communities try to address affordable housing shortages, but also faces opposition from developers, who fear that it will add layers of fees and bureaucracy, according to a 2009 report by the Canadian Policy Research Networks.

Council’s approval of the rental units comes during ongoing concerns about the availability and affordability of housing in Saanich and across Greater Victoria.

The latest available Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation figures dated October 2015 peg the regional vacancy rates at 0.6 per cent, the lowest in the country.

Average rental rates also rank among the highest and a Victoria Foundation report released last month finds almost two-thirds of available housing in Greater Victoria is unaffordable for most of its residents.

Various reports, however, also note that the construction of new rental units has risen across the region in recent months and the new rental units at Uptown fit this pattern as demand for such housing has surged.

It should be noted that the construction of rental units was not the applicant’s first choice.

Initial site plans called for construction of condominiums, plans put on hold as the demand for such units declined in the wake of the Great Recession.

Coun. Dean Murdock referenced this history earlier this summer when council first considered the proposed rental building.

“Uptown has been a work in progress for nearly a decade and the residential was the most exciting part yet to come,” he said. “The world has changed a lot from 2007 when Morguard talked about putting condos in this location. If the condos had happened, we would actually have more housing, but we wouldn’t have had rental, so this a big bonus, it’s a boost.”

The approved building itself consists out of two components: a three-storey podium that would house the commercial space and the residential building consisting out of two wings that create a U-shape. The south wing of the building would terrace up from three to nine storeys while the north wing would terrace up from five to 11 storeys.

Geoff Nagle, Morguard’s director of development for Western Canada, welcomed council’s approval. On behalf of the Uptown owners, Morguard “is very excited to begin the next steps in the continuing evolution of the emerging urban core of Saanich,” he said in an email.

If all goes as planned, Morguard will have completed the design development, lease negotiations, construction documentation, building permit and tendering processes as early as summer 2017, Nagle said.

Construction could start then, he said, adding current plans allow 26 to 30 months for construction.

As of this writing, B.C. Assessment values the Uptown development at about $300 million.

 

Just Posted

Youth have privacy rights, doctor tells inquest into Oak Bay teen’s opioid death

Elliot Eurchuk died of a drug overdose. He was found unresponsive in his bedroom in April 2018

Saanich councillor says residents owed a bylaw like the rescinded EDPA

Coun. Nathalie Chambers also says council needs to apologize to a staff member

RCMP fine man $1,150 for camping, lighting campfire in Mill Hill Regional Park

Campfires prohibited at all regional parks except designated campgrounds

Victoria sees many new landmarks between 2018-2019

Bridges, buildings and more have popped up across Victoria in the past year

Woman flees North Saanich RCMP in dinghy

Victoria woman tries to escape in dinghy, arrested for break and enter, theft and mischief

Victoria church displays memorial tapestry for those lost to opioid crisis

Christ Church Cathedral hosts talks on opioid crisis on June 26 and July 3

POLL: Do you support the government’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?

The federal government announced Tuesday its approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of June 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rare white killer whale captured by drone near Campbell River

The transient orca has been named Tl’uk, a Coast Salish word that means ‘moon.’

B.C. oil tanker ban squeaks through final vote in Senate

Bill C-48 bars oil tankers from loading at ports on B.C’s north coast

’When thunder roars, go indoors’: How to keep safe before lightning strikes

Each year, an estimated 10 deaths and as many as 164 injuries are lightning-related

B.C. rolls out online registration to speed up evacuee processing

Central Okanagan district tests province’s streamlined emergency management digital self-registration

NHL Draft 2019: First-round mock selections

Hughes expected to go No. 1 overall; Canucks have 10th pick

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Most Read