Queenswood rezoning submitted to staff, despite major neighbourhood concerns

The future of the Queenswood property is one giant question mark.

And that concerns neighbours who say the lack of concrete plans makes a request to rezone the land disconcerting.

The University of Victoria, which owns the the six-hectare site on Arbutus Road, purchased the property to expand its academic use as it relates to the school’s mission. However, what that expansion looks like is yet to be seen.

“What we’ve indicted is the property was acquired as a long-term asset to serve the university’s mission. As a result, it’d be premature to outline specific development plans, given they’re not completed at this time,” Neil Connelly, director of UVic Campus Planning and Sustainability.

Bob Furber, who lives next to the property, said neighbours are concerned the the rezoning application will be approved without development plans, which would then allow the university to build without public input – so long as they meet zoning requirements.

“I keep trying to find out what the community thinks, and all evidence points to that the community does not support the current UVic proposal,” he said. “The community would feel much more comfortable if UVic were to submit a concrete proposal outlining what they plan to do, where they want to build buildings, and what it’s going to look like.”

Queenswood is still the home of a care facility, operated by the Sisters of St. Ann, and – up until last year – it housed a retreat centre.

UVic this week submitted its rezoning application to the district of Saanich. Staff will spend a couple of months vetting the application before putting recommendations to council.

“We’ve certainly done what we can to respond to neighbours’ concerns,” Connelly said. The university held two well-attended open houses and recently adjusted their plans to restrict new building heights at three storeys and keep a vegetation buffer of 15 metres surrounding the property.

“Everyone’s going to have their own viewpoint relative to how responsive the university should be, right from people who would suggest that the current use on the property was just fine and any change is problematic.”

Adjustments to building height and a natural buffer don’t go far enough to ease concerns, Furber said. There still remains unease about potential traffic and the loss of nature.

“It’s going to change the whole character of the area from this very nice, semi-rural, urban forest setting to a potentially very densely developed area with massive amounts of traffic,” Furber said.

Connelly said a consultant has concluded that tripling the existing floor space on the site (from 63,000 sq. feet to 191,000 sq. feet) wouldn’t result in a significant impact on traffic. However, he acknowledged that 191,000 sq. feet is an arbitrary number and future development on the property could potentially well exceed that number.

“(However) a site planning exercise that would trigger what future development … might look like … would be premature right now,” he said.

Connelly said the university will continue to engage with the community as the rezoning application moves forward. Neighbours will have another opportunity to speak to the application when it comes before council.

“I’m hoping that some compromise can be arrived at that is to the liking of the community,” Furber said. “Whether anyone will listen to our concerns or not remains to be seen.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com