Developers are eyeing Victoria’s Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood to build a 12-storey, 160-unit rental tower featuring commercial space below as the final step to revitalize the Victoria Press Building property.
Victoria-based Merchant House Capital is preparing to formally submit a rezoning and development permit application to the City of Victoria, pitching the mixed-use building for 2621-2629 Douglas St., at the corner of Kings Road and Ross Lane and across the street from CHEK News’ office.
The developer is also behind recent renovations at the heritage-designated Vic Press Building, or former Times Colonist building, and hopes to transform the rear on-site surface parking lot into “a destination for commerce, culture, and innovation,” states a Feb. 27 letter to neighbours.
“The site-wide redevelopment began with the Architectural Heritage Designation of the Victoria Press Building, and its metamorphosis into a commercial hub that supports entrepreneurship and small businesses,” Merchant House said, noting the tower should round out the ‘Midtown’ area, helping to vitalize the local community.
“The development is a beacon to sustainability as it has revitalized an existing heritage structure, as well as its compact form, which features a vibrant mix of uses in a new urban village,” it said.
The proposal culminates years of planning to transform the property, according to Merchant. It says it fits with the Burnside-Gorge Neighbourhood Plan, adopted in 2017 when the developer first purchased the property.
Units vary in size, from Jr. one-bedroom to four-bedroom ‘co-housing’
Tower design plans from D’Ambrosio Architecture call for Jr. one-bedroom, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units, as well as three- and four-bedroom “co-housing” style suites.
The goal is to help stem a housing crisis, Merchant explains.
It points to Victoria’s 2020 Housing Needs Assessment, which placed priority on rentals and projected the city would need an additional 2,900 homes between 2020 and 2025. A House Strategy Report, updated in July 2021, estimated a need for 6,000 more homes locally by 2025 to keep up with demand.
Last month, rental-listing website Zumper reported the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria in January was $2,080 per month, while a two-bedroom cost about $2,610. B.C.’s capital ranked fourth for Canada’s most expensive rental market, behind Vancouver, Burnaby and Toronto.
Housing Analyst Leo Spalteholz spoke with CHEK News after the numbers were released, saying measures should be taken to mitigate rising rent costs.
“Local municipalities should be countering this cost pressure by aggressively streamlining purpose-built rental projects, up-zoning for rentals to match the OCP, and allowing affordable housing to be built by right, similar to the City of Victoria’s Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing policy,” said Spalteholz in an interview.
It’s unclear how much rent will cost at Merchant’s new tower.
No parking for residents, but underground lot for Vic Press Building
The design plans also show a bike storage room on the ground floor of the building, which the developer says will “improve the ecological fit of the project,” providing a “sustainable approach to urban growth.” This aims to combat a lack of parking, as no vehicle spaces are included for residents, though a two-level underground garage would be built for people accessing the Vic Press Building.
“Included in this parking are sixteen parking spaces for the new commercial space at grade-level of the new residential building, as well as shared visitor parking. Extensive Transportation Demand Management measures are also proposed,” Merchant said.
A document on the city’s website outlines off-street parking requirements for new developments.
Meanwhile, apartment residents and those at the Vic Press Building can utilize a shared courtyard landscape, or “large urban plaza space,” offering room for outdoor gatherings. Plans show it wedged between the two buildings and also accessed via Kings Road and a new laneway.
Merchant says a Community Association Land Use Committees (CALUC) community meeting is scheduled for March 20 before it formally submits its application to the city. Previous public engagement sessions for the property we held starting in 2017.
“We welcome your comments and questions through the Development Tracking posting with the City of Victoria,” the developer added. “We are proud of the multi-phased revitalization of this former light industrial site. Over the ensuing years, we are confident it will become a thriving urban village that acts as a hub for the Burnside Gorge community and a node for the city-at-large.”
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(Renderings provided by: Merchant House/Victoria’s Development Tracker)