Victoria City Council has approved a proposal to redevelop the long-vacant and historic Northern Junk buildings on the Inner Harbour.
Council voted 5-4 in a meeting Thursday night to approve the project, which will see developer Reliance Properties turn the Gold Rush-era two-storey warehouses into a mixed rental and commercial property with 47 homes and 9,000 square feet of business and restaurant space.
Reliance said it will retain and stabilize the warehouses’ original facades, interiors and structural walls. The developer will also build an extension of the David Foster Walkway with a public-access elevator to the waterfront.
The warehouses have sat unoccupied and aging for 43 years and Reliance has been trying to redevelop the site for the last 10 years, president and CEO Jon Stovell said in a statement Friday.
“When Reliance Properties bought the Northern Junk site in 2010, it surprised and saddened us to know that the buildings had languished under the previous ownership since 1978,” he said.
“What we didn’t realize is that it would take us a full decade of designs and redesigns, community consultation, and city processes to get to a point where we can save these waterfront gems from permanent ruin. Thankfully, we can now begin to bring Northern Junk back to relevant use for future generations.”
In the lead-up to public hearings on the project last week, some spoke out in favour of preserving the site or scaling back current plans, saying the more than 160-year-old buildings represent an important milestone in Canadian history.
Voting against the project were councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Ben Isitt, Sharmarke Dubow and Geoff Young, and voting in favour were Mayor Lisa Helps and councillors Marianne Alto, Stephen Andrew, Jeremy Loveday and Sarah Potts.
“I don’t think this building is good heritage preservation. It’s too dominating. It overwhelms the heritage building. I don’t think it’s particularly good planning,” said Young.
“It’s a big building on the waterfront. We have some in other places, they work. I don’t think this one works,” he added.
Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, however, thinks it’s a good decision for the urban fabric of the city’s downtown.
“I think to see those building sit vacant for any longer wasn’t in anyone’s interest. Also, we’re in a critical housing shortage right now. We’re between — just for residents who live in Victoria — between 4,500 and 6,300 units short of housing right now for people who live here. So, any new unit is a good new unit,” she said.
Stovell agreed, telling CHEK News that “it’s not out with the old and in with the new.”
“It’s just more about old adapting and moving forward and not just becoming this freeze frame in time. And adapting to the future needs of the city and the people of the city,” he said.
Construction officially begins early next year. The project is set to be completed in three years.