Despite hearing public concerns about its height and political accountability, a $250-million redevelopment of Saanich’s urban core cleared a major hurdle Tuesday following a public hearing.
Notwithstanding some outstanding legislative steps, council approved the broad framework of the Nigel Valley Action Plan, an ambitious redevelopment of Saanich’s core.
The proposal would increase the number of residential units in the area near municipal hall up to a maximum of 796 units – up from 186 – as part of a project that would involve 12 separate properties, five property owners (including Saanich) and five agencies that deliver affordable and supportive housing.
Twenty-seven per cent of the units would qualify as market housing, with the rest considered affordable and supportive housing.
The proposal would require the readjustment of several properties and change the viewscape of Saanich. It would create nine new properties. Proposed maximum heights for developments range from five, six, eight and 16 storeys – four above the maximum height preferred by the Mount View Colquitz Community Association.
The likely signature building of the project would be a residential tower of up to 16 storeys at the corner opposite of the intersection between Vernon Avenue (Blanshard Street) and Ravine Way — four above the maximum height preferred by the Mount View Colquitz Community Association.
Ken Whitcroft questioned this height, pointing to concerns from two local community associations, Mount View Colquitz Community Association, and Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association about the height of that building.
“They are saying 12 storeys, I believe 10 storeys would be adequate,” he said. “When you get tall buildings, you get shadowing of existing land use.”
Whitcroft also argued for a postponement of the project until after the fall election.
“Four of you [councillors] are leaving, which tells me that there is no real accountability … in this decision-making,” he said.
Couns. Dean Murdock, Vicki Sanders, and Leif Wergeland are not seeking re-election, and Coun. Fred Haynes might not return to council as he seeks the mayoral office.
Councillors also heard concerns about the amount of traffic that the development would attract, as well as the impact of construction, which could last for several years. This said, council also heard praise from individuals with various development disabilities, who said the re-development of Nigel Valley affords them an opportunity to live with dignity in a socially inclusive environment.
Councillors acknowledged concerns about height and other issues, but pointed to promises by the applicant to monitor the construction impact and work with the community as the project moves along, with residents being able to comment on each building individually during the development permit process. They also highlighted the impact that the project will have on the community by increasing the supply of affordable housing for individuals with various disabilities and without them.
Coun. Judy Brownoff said the project will do nothing less than create a new neighbourhood, a point echoed by Coun. Dean Murdock. “This is a very exciting night, ” said Murdock. “We are embarking on a long journey to be sure, but this is the start of something very important.”
Coun. Colin Plant also acknowledged those concerned about the height of the building, but pointed out that the OCP legitimizes this move.
“I hear you, but the [Official Community Plan] has identified this neighbourhood, that this is where we are going to put height. The OCP is the community’s document.” Density is the key to increasing the supply of housing, he said. “I acknowledge not everybody is happy, but this is the right thing for Saanich.”
Haynes also told residents that their voices would be heard as the project moves along. “If you are not still not satisfied that these [concerns] have been addressed, you will have another opportunity in the future, as each of these component parts come forward,” he said.
Wergeland, meanwhile, dismissed concerns about political accountability. “We do continue to make decisions and work for you until the next election,” he said.
Provincial Rental Housing Corporation, the Broadmead Care Society, Garth Homer Foundation, and the Capital Mental Health Association with B.C. Housing serving as the coordinating agency and applicant are participating in the project.
Construction could start as early as next year, and Saanich has asked the applicant to prioritize the affordable housing component.