The owners of University Heights Shopping Centre, taking note of the region’s desperate need for rental housing, are planning a major overhaul for the Saanich mall with 350 residential units as part of the mix.
Wesbild Holdings bought the 10-acre property in 2015 for about $50 million.
“This plan comes down to the rental market. The units are needed now, and while it will take a long time for us to [complete the project], we think there will still be a need for rental,” said Wesbild director of marketing Jennifer Derbyshire.
Derbyshire said the vision is to have a new mixed-use building with commercial space and about 350 residential rental units.
The mall was built through the 1970s and 1980s, with Home Depot added in 2005.
Under the plan, Home Depot would be untouched, and the other anchor, Save-on-Foods, would stay where it is, while the rest of the mall will be rebuilt and a new residential structure would be built along Cedar Hill Road.
Derbyshire said there should be no disruption to Home Depot. “But then again there will be lots of changes before we get to our final destination,” she said, noting it’s likely to take at least two years to get through the approvals process with Saanich and then another two years to build. “We will take the time to get this right.”
She said they plan to have about 192,000 square feet of commercial space, in addition to Home Depot’s 78,000 square feet.
“This is our first application to the District of Saanich and we expect there will be rounds and rounds of changes before anything gets finalized, and obviously there will be a lot of community feedback to take into consideration,” she said. “But we have looked at what the market needs, and the one thing we have heard is rental — this is a response to that.”
Derbyshire noted the mall is near the University of Victoria, which has struggled to keep up with student housing demand.
Last month, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. noted Victoria’s overall rental vacancy rate improved slightly to 0.7 per cent from 0.5 per cent in 2016, and the purpose-built rental vacancy rate hit 0.6 per cent, ranking it third worst in the country.
The purpose-built rental market has added only 1,026 units between 2011 and 2016. Developers currently have 1,842 rental apartments under construction.
“The redevelopment of that site is welcome news and will be a great asset to the area,” said Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association. “The residential component is critical for the existing and future demand, which has been underestimated by all levels of government.”
Millennials’ housing needs “can only be accommodated by rezoning and increasing the density in our region of high land costs,” he said.
Derbyshire said Wesbild is intent on keeping within the guidelines of the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, which will guide land use and transportation decisions over the next few decades.
That plan is to include improved centres and villages along the corridor between Hillside Avenue and the Feltham Road area, a new design for Shelbourne Street that includes bike lanes, improved pedestrian walkways and a network of greenways.