It has taken more than two years, but the moment of truth finally arrived for a housing development project at 1201 Fort Street and 1050 Pentrelew Place on Thursday evening.
Victoria city council voted to approve a rezoning application to allow the Abstract Development project to go-ahead by a vote of 6-3.
“I’m making the very difficult decision to support this proposal tonight,” said Mayor Lisa Helps ahead of the vote.
The proposal for the former Truth Centre property will see 83 new units built on the 2-acre, $7 million lot. It includes nine two-storey townhouses, and two condo buildings, one 4-storey and one 6-storey, the latter caused the most concern among councilors.
“It is a challenging application for me,” said councillor Ben Isitt.
Finally, after two days of hearing from the public, Mayor Lisa Helps calls the vote.
“I will call the question… All those in favour of the application… Those opposed… So there is six in favour, three opposed. Third reading carries.”
After the vote, Helps admitted it was not an easy decision.
“After hearing from 100 people, and hearing really good comments, and thoughtful comments from both so-called sides, so yeah, challenging decision tonight. I don’t think it feels like a victory for anyone,” Helps said.
The vote marks the end of a long and often heated process. The developer made six planning revisions in a little more than two years, including a complete overhaul of the project.
It wasn’t enough for a significant number of the more than 100 people who weighed-in during a series of public hearings.
Opponents argued the project was too dense, the proposed 6-storey building would be too tall, and the project was not a good fit for the area and should be scaled back further. But some younger speakers said it will provide much needed new housing in the midst of a chronic shortage, and within walking distance to downtown.
Greater Victoria is under increasing pressure to build more housing and increase density as the population increases. That is literally changing the face of neighbourhoods.
University of Victoria Environmental Psychologist Dr. Robert Gifford says that can result in conflict.
“The longer someone’s lived in a neighbourhood, the more they want to protect it. The more they identify with that area. And so, change is a change, in a psychological sense, is a change to me,” Gifford said.
On Granite Street in Oak Bay a proposal for a housing unit by the United Church is drawing fire.
The 98 units would incorporate affordable and market rentals.
Cheryl Thomas is a member of the Oak Bay United Church Development committee. She said they are trying to work as much as possible with the neighbours.
“People are always concerned when it comes to change. And they are concerned about what that is going to mean for them. And you can say, we’re taking care of the view corridors, we’re saving all the trees. We’re taking care of the traffic issues.” said Thomas.
Neighbours would like to see more balance. As a resident of Granite Street for 31 years, Jude Somers house is directly across the street from the United Church, and its property. Her primary concern is the future of the area.
“We are not opposed. We are not opposed. Affordable housing, everyone knows we need more of that. But it also has to be sympathetic to the community,” Somers said.
This project still has to go before a public hearing, and that may be at least a year away.