Opinion: ‘Ultimate challenge for Esquimalt council’: Thoughts from Mayor Barb Desjardins after approving 26-storey residential tower

Opinion: ‘Ultimate challenge for Esquimalt council’: Thoughts from Mayor Barb Desjardins after approving 26-storey residential tower
GMC Projects Inc.
A rendering of the building is shown.

In May 2023, Esquimalt staff received the development application for 900 Carlton Place/900 Esquimalt Road, a key corner in Esquimalt. The application included 272 units of housing, commercial space, rental housing and a condominium tower at a height of 26 storeys.

These properties are within the Commercial/Commercial Mixed Use Proposed Land Use Designation within Esquimalt’s Official Community Plan (OCP) and this proposal met the use and density requirements within the C-2 zone, and as such it did not require a rezoning. The C-2 zone does not contain a maximum density.

In May 2022, a full year before submitting their application, GMC Projects (the project developer) initiated community engagement. As part of the information provided to council March 4th, 2024, they provided an outline of 38 community engagement actions between May 2022 and March 4th, 2024.

Council also heard from the public through these engagements and ongoing social media. Clearly this project would be a deviation from what the community had seen to date and coupling that with the fact that it was not going to come to council as a rezoning it created significant angst in some of our Esquimalt community as they struggled to see how a project could come forward as a development variance with such height.

At the March 4th council meeting there was significant public input with speakers and emails received from all levels of the business community, including the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce, and many businesses local to the project in strong favour of the project.

After three hours of the council meeting devoted to this proposal, Council requested more information and moved to postpone a decision to a future council meeting.

In the month between March 4th and April 8th, when the item returned to Council’s agenda, each member of Esquimalt Council listened to the community, hearing again from both those for the project and those opposed. There did not seem to be a medium position and this challenged members of council. This project was like nothing we have had to decide before, significantly deviating from current practices in Esquimalt for heights to a maximum 12 storeys.

On April 8th council heard again from a wide-range of community members, including the Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre, local businesses, local area residents, students from UVic, Esquimalt First Nation, and some from outside Esquimalt. Council members spoke frankly about their challenges. All members of council spoke of areas of support for the project citing significant positives for revitalising this corner. They also referenced the community challenge of the project’s significant height. Council members listened to each other, building on, delving further into each other’s comments to finally come to a position of being able to call the question on the motion to approve.

Council approved the proposal in a majority of five-two. Land use decisions are challenging, this one was the ultimate challenge for Esquimalt council. It was done through significant listening to an engaged community, and respectful, thorough questioning to staff and the proponent to ensure councillors had the information required to make a decision.

READ MORE: ‘It will be an attraction’: Landmark 26-storey development approved by Esquimalt council

I encourage people to watch the video of this council meeting as it highlights good governance, engaged community and a shared passion in the goal to improve Esquimalt as a community going forward.

You can watch the council discussion here:

After serving three years on Esquimalt Municipal Council, Barb Desjardins was first elected Mayor of Esquimalt in November of 2008. She was re-elected as mayor in 2011, 2014 and 2018, Esquimalt’s longest consecutive serving mayor.

Desjardins voted in favour of the 26-storey tower, which will become the tallest in Esquimalt at 84 metres, just shy of Victoria’s 25-storey Hudson Place One, the current tallest building on Vancouver Island.

Councillors Andrea Boardman and Duncan Cavens voted against the project.

Barb DesjardinsBarb Desjardins

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