Roundhouse project moves forward: Victoria council gives historic housing project in Vic West the green light

CHEK
The Bayview Roundhouse property is pictured.

After decades of planning and discussion, Victoria council has voted in favour of one of the largest development projects in the city’s history.

On Thursday night, after weeks of public input, council voted 7-2 in favour of moving ahead with the Roundhouse at Bayview Place, a massive development on a 10-acre piece of land in Vic West.

Mayor Marrianne Alto voted in favour of the project along with Councillors Matt Dell, Jeremy Caradonna, Krista Loughton, Chris Coleman, Dave Thompson and Susan Kim. Councillors Stephen Hammond and Marg Gardiner voted against the project.

While the rezoning bylaw still needs to be adopted, which will happen at a later date, Thursday’s vote is a major step forward in a project that’s been stalled for years.

The project would include nine buildings, ranging from 10 to 32-stories each, with a total of more than 2,000 residential units.

That total includes 215 affordable rental units, as well as another 1,870 residential units. Some 60,000 square feet of retail space and a childcare facility is also part of the plan.

Developer Ken Mariash has spent years trying to develop the 10-acre piece of land in the Songhees neighbourhood.

The Vote

Councillor Dave Thompson called this one of the biggest decisions council has had to make and noted the positive impact the development would have on downtown businesses.  He admitted he did have reservations about the development initially including the number of towers, but noted that a significant amount of the site will be green space.

Councillor Matt Dell said council’s decision will have a generational impact on the future of the city. He said his decision to support the project was based on the goals the city is trying to achieve including hitting its housing targets. Dell also said he believes the proposal could provide a site as vibrant and thriving as Granville Island in Vancouver. Knowing how desperate people are for housing, Dell said he can’t say no to the project.

In voting against the current proposal, Councillor Marg Gardiner highlighted the long history of the project and her concerns with the changes to the proposal over the years. She also said the impact on the harbour airport should not be understated and had concerns with the future quality of life in the neighbourhood.

While Councillor Stephen Hammond said he agrees with many people who support the project, he noted his concerns with the density and height of the proposed buildings and their close proximity to the historic buildings on the site and as a result voted against the project.

Although Councillor Jeremy Caradonna voted in favour of the proposal, he laid out several concerns over the course of the night with the Master Development Agreement and whether or not the city had maximized its ability to secure things like communitiy ammenities. He called the proposal the “final mega development” in the City of Victoria.

Of all the factors, Councillor Krista Loughton said the city’s youth and the need for affordable housing influenced her decision the most. Loughton says the site has sat empty for too long and it’s time to move forward.

Councillor Chris Coleman outlined the balance council is trying to find between housing and heritage preservation. While he’s in support of more housing, he noted he felt the proposal would diminish the heritage signifance of the site.

Similar to Loughton, Councillor Susan Kim said the views of the city’s youth influenced her decision. While she listed what she called several “imperfections” with the project, in the end she voted in favour because of the need for housing and safe, community space.

Mayor Marriane Alto noted that while the project has many flaws, she believes the development has the right balance between respecting history and building for the future.

A portion of Thursday’s meeting, the third night in the public hearing process, centred around the Victoria Inner Harbour Airport and potential issues that could arise between the site and planes taking off and landing in the inner harbour.

To address those concerns council also approved a motion Thursday night that requires the applicant to address concerns regarding the potential impact to the Victoria Harbour Water Airport in consulation with Transport Canada. The directors of sustainable planning and community development and engineering and public works will need to sign-off once those concerns are addressed.

Ken Mariash, the founder of Bayview Place and Focus Equities, was also in attendance and spoke when asked about the developer’s relationship with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. Mariash said both First Nations were in support of the proposal.

Questions and Answers

Most of the night was spent with the applicant and staff answering questions from council. Mayor Alto began the question portion of the evening with several questions to the applicant on behalf of the public.

Here were some of the takeaways:

  • There will be an extensive process to restore the heritage buildings, including seismic upgrades, so that they can eventually be used by retailers
  • The plan is to have the heritage buildings be used by the community as soon as the site has been remediated
  • There isn’t currently a proposal for a specific hotel on the site but the applicant would like the option of having a hotel on the site in the future
  • A public market on the site remains a community vision and the zoning allows for it
  • 40 per cent of the entire project is open or green space at the ground level.
  • Victoria Fire Chief Dan Atkinson did not have any issue with the proposal. Victoria Police have not been approached about the development.

Councillors also had an opportunity to ask questions about the proposal. Jonathan Tinney served as the proposal’s main representative in responding. Here are a few of the questions and responses:

How do the proposed ammenities serve Victoria’s aging population?

The site is flat and scooter accessible. The open spaces are conceptually designed and specific details will be worked out with staff and possibly with community input.

Elaborate on the potential for a hotel? 

There could be a stand alone hotel similar to the Marriot hotel in downtown Victoria. The hotel could also occupy a portion of a building, for instance four floors of a hotel with residences in the floors above.

How would construction impact traffic in the area?

A traffic management plan will need to be prepared.

Could there be more rental and below market units in this project?

The project was put together quite thoughtfully. The applicant has structured it in a way to have an affordable housing building. Rental is permitted on the rest of the site. There is the potential that some of the other buildings could become purpose built rental units. There’s always been a vision that this would be a site for a mix of housing types. Ultimately it comes down to economics. Remediation costs have increased significantly. At the end of the day, the applicant is keen on providing a broad based proposal that includes a bunch of community benefits.

How long will it take until the project comes to fruition? 

Hard to say. Really depends on market conditions. It will probably be 10 to 15 years until we see a significant buildout. The intent is to build it as fast as possible. The affordable housing site will come in the first phase. Remediation will also occur quickly. No matter what building goes up first, amenities will go up in step with the residences.

How many jobs could the project create? 

An economic impact study on the construction phase of the project hasn’t been done. Likely a few hundred jobs on an ongoing basis through the construction process.

Will there be amenities for children and young families?

The intent is that the community will work for people aged 8-80. The biggest benefit in this site is where it’s located in the city. It’s location makes living in smaller spaces easier because of its proximity to amenities.

With the soil remediation work, do you foresee much blasting?

There will be excavation and blasting to create underground parking on the site.

Could the developer sell off portions of the site? (Question answered by staff)

It’s certainly possible. The city can’t force someone to own land, however, if the developer were to sell portions of the land the new owner would still have to abide by the zoning regulations approved by council.

How many parking stalls?

Roughly 1,200 parking spaces for the entire site. There would be about 80 parking spots for the businesses.

CHEK News will have more reaction to this developing story on Friday on CHEK News at 5, 6, and 10. 

 

 

 

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