Makeover at West Bay, in ‘gem of a location’

Residents in the West Bay area of Esquimalt have been waiting a long time for a development to coalesce around the “gem of a location,” and community association president Carole Witter sounds confident it’s on the way.

“There has been 20 years of uncertainty in the area,” she said. “There have been proposals and nothing has been done. It’s been tough on the community, and now we have certainty.”

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It’s in the form of a six-storey residential and commercial project bounded by Head, Lyall and Gore streets, expected to have shovels in the ground come fall, said developer Mark Lindholm, owner of the nearby Westbay Marina. Estimated cost is about $22 million, he said.

That’s only the first of three phases of what would be a major makeover of the area, including a waterfront village with destination shops and businesses Lindholm has in mind.

Esquimalt council has approved the rezoning of the triangular lot for the first phase, said Mayor Barb Desjardins, adding that “the community is happy with it.”

With 73 condo units and 10,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, the Triangle will be one of the tallest buildings in the municipality, but much lower than the two 10-storey towers Lindholm had initially proposed. Those were rejected by council in 2014 and by residents who turned out in the hundreds to show opposition.

The first phase impresses Desjardins.

“I think it’s going to be fabulous to have the area developed as a destination point in Esquimalt — a place we can gather, a tourism node, our connection to the water. It’s a unique little spot, and to be able to provide amenities to draw people is going to be beneficial.”

Witter and her husband live in a historic house on West Bay, and for more than 30 years have operated Hidden Harbour Marina, one of three marinas on the bay.

“Everybody assumes it is just one marina,” she said. The third marina, Sailor’s Cove, is also owned by the Lindholm family.

The marinas won’t change, at least for now, but the Triangle building is “very welcome,” she said, adding she believes that most of the community agrees.

“People really want something to happen. The Triangle lands have been an embarrassment for so many years, just dilapidated homes. This is more in keeping with a marine-oriented village [in] such a unique gem of a location.”

The harbour locale should be a commercial draw for people who live and work in the area, but also attract the increasing number of young families moving into Esquimalt and others eager to have water-view shopping and dining. The closest thing to village ambience next to the water might be in Sidney, she said.

The harbour and the uplands are inextricably linked, and the development is going to enhance what’s already there, she added.

The new Triangle will be built on eight lots with nine legal addresses in a new comprehensive development zone that includes 468, 470 and 472 Head St., 509 and 515 Gore St. and 912, 918, 920 and 922 Lyall St. There are four occupied houses on the lots and one unoccupied, Lindholm said. A pedestrian pathway will be built mid-block between Lyall and Head, accessible to the public, but remaining private property. The total square footage is just over 46,500.

The second phase of the West Bay Marina revamp was recently submitted to Esquimalt planning department — a rezoning application for 460 and 464 Head St.

The phase two plan involves 12 large, high-end water-view condos in a five-storey building, replacing a private parking lot and an undeveloped vacant lot, Lindholm said. It’s expected to face a lengthy rezoning process with the municipality.

Called Marinaview, the 16,000-square-foot development would include ground-floor commercial space for three tenants, said Lindholm’s architect, Peter Hardcastle. If passed, it would boost to nine the number of retail and lifestyle-oriented businesses such as cafés envisioned as a village hub, he added, with the contemporary development designed to align with the historic buildings across the way.

Phase three would entail a major overhaul of Westbay Marina itself. The Lindholms have owned it for 20 years, while they’ve acquired eight nearby properties to consolidate the site for what is envisioned as the go-to marine village that Esquimalt, with its long maritime history, has lacked. Appealing as they are, neither Cook Street Village nor Oak Bay Village are so close to the water, although they are much larger centres that have developed organically over the decades.

 

Hardcastle sees the modern esthetic of his designs complemented by public spaces right by the water and the historic buildings nearby, an opportunity to start a marine village “from scratch.” The neighourhood played a role in defining what the village should look like and how the development could improve the surroundings “without changing what they all cherish.”

As a direct result of the controversy surrounding the high-rise proposal, Esquimalt council had staff co-ordinate the West Bay Neighbourhood Design Guidelines, and members of the municipality’s design-review committee sought assurances the commercial space would not change to residential use, that some rentals would be allowed, that people would have no problems getting to the front door and that some electric-vehicle infrastructure would be included.

The 73 units will include one and two bedrooms, with two-bedroom-and-den units on the upper floors. Prices will vary, with the idea of attracting a mix of people, Hardcastle said. Parking will be underground.

The commercial space along Head Street will have six-metre-wide setbacks, not including municipal sidewalks, allowing businesses to provide outdoor space for eating, meeting and shopping. The business frontage will be covered by three-metre canopies to allow all-weather outdoor uses, with large built-in planters and seating. The width of the setbacks, combined with municipal sidewalks, creates an “esplanade” effect wider than any Lindholm is aware of in Greater Victoria.

Public seating is planned for the corner of Lyall and Head streets, with a water view thrown in for good measure.

The parking lot beside Gaby’s Restaurant on the Westbay Marina property will remain, but the third phase of the development would see a new marina building on the water and new small floating commercial spaces, Lindholm said.

One design-panel member commented that “the West Bay Triangle has been a ‘dead zone’ for too long and that change is welcome,” according to the minutes of the meeting, which also noted that despite being a “beautiful project” the size will be “a bit shocking initially.” Existing zoning is single-family and two-family residential.

“Members thank Mr. Lindholm for not walking away from the project and for taking the time to redesign the proposal, stating that this proposal represents a balance of the needs of the developer and those of the community,” the design panel said.

Lindholm expects it to take several months for the development and building permits to be granted, as Esquimalt does not allow the permits to run concurrently. After the fourth reading expected on Monday, the advisory design panel will review the development plans from the point of view of appearance, then they go back to council for final approval, possibly later this month, he said.

There were 14 months of community consultation in the first phase, Hardcastle said, and after that, “not a single voice of objection.”

Construction of phase one is expected to begin in the fall, with a completion time estimated at 18 to 20 months, he added.

Hardcastle estimates the whole development could be completed within five years to “enliven and invigorate the neighbourhood” next to West Bay. That, along with the Esquimalt Village Project — 87,000 square feet next to municipal hall slated for imminent reinvention as retail, residential and office space and a new library, will “put a focus on Esquimalt that has never been there.”

kdedyna@timscolonist.com

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