Victoria signalled there’s a large majority on council that will support the Harris Green Village project, mainly because of the needed rentals the two-block transformation will bring.
The Starlight Developments project looks to add almost 1,600 rental units, of which 80 would meet the city’s affordable standard, ranging from studios to three-bedroom townhomes within a boundary encompassing Yates, View, Quadra and Cook streets.
Eight of the nine council members said at the Thursday (Feb. 16) meeting that they will vote in favour of the proposal, which only has a small procedural hurdle left. The final reading of the project’s rezoning and community plan amendments has been approved, leaving only a legal agreement outlining amenities the developer will have to provide before the final adoption vote.
Aside from the large influx of rentals, the proposal will include a half-acre park, several public plazas, a daycare, community space that will be rented to the city for free, plus restaurants and commercial spaces that will hopefully retain some of the sites’ current businesses, such as Market On Yates and London Drugs.
The three-phased construction period will start with the 1045 Yates St. property that used to house a car dealership beside two other residential towers.
Mayor Marianne Alto said although the project will be phased likely over the next decade, it’s a rare opportunity to approve such a large amount of necessary housing all at once.
“It’s about the intentional transformation of Victoria into a city,” she said. “This will be a showpiece for the city.”
Several councillors wished the current table would have been guiding the project from the start, rather than being left with the decision after the last council presided over the initial plan revisions. The members approved several amendments, which were responsible for the legal agreement tweaks, to the project.
Those potential changes – contingent on whether Starlight can accommodate them – include the buildings using only electrical systems in phases two and three, which will redevelop between Vancouver and Quadra streets.
The amendments also look to lower the share of overall parking per unit, boosting bike parking to 2,500 spaces and having Starlight provide new tenants without cars optional three-month bus passes.
The developer said Harris Green’s walkability and other sustainable transportation options were a major aspect of their proposal.
Councillors said the units would be key to addressing the city’s too-low vacancy rate and they would represent a big chunk of the needed purpose-built rentals. Councillors cited the comments from the public hearing and the messages they’re flooded with around people saying they’re living in unsuitable situations, if they’ve been lucky enough to obtain housing.
Several mentioned the pleas from housing-desperate students, with Coun. Chris Coleman saying the city’s objective should be to capture and retain students and the economic and cultural vibrancy they add.
Some concerns remained about the proposed heights and added density, but councillors were encouraged by the economic benefits for local businesses and revitalizing underused space near downtown.
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