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Affordable-housing project behind Vic High going to public hearing

A controversial plan to build 158 units of affordable rental housing in two apartment buildings and three townhouses near Vic High is headed to a public hearing.

A controversial plan to build 158 units of affordable rental housing in two apartment buildings and three townhouses near Vic High is headed to a public hearing.

Victoria city councillors voted 6-1 at committee of the whole on Thursday to let residents have a say on the rezoning application by the Capital Region Housing Corporation.

The non-profit agency proposes to develop its Caledonia project across nine lots from Gladstone Avenue to Grant Street, adjacent to the school’s track.

City staff say the buildings — a five-storey apartment, a four-storey apartment and three townhouses — will have a mixture of affordable and below-market rental apartments. The breakdown includes 14 studios, 45 one-bedrooms, 77 two-bedrooms, 14 three-bedrooms and eight four -bedrooms. Of those, 15 units will be wheelchair-accessible.

An eight-metre-wide greenway running from Gladstone to Grant between the project and the Vic High field will feature outdoor seating, garbage cans, bike racks, lighting and a double row of trees, city staff said.

Other outdoor amenities include a playground, a children’s urban agriculture planting area, garden beds, picnic tables and benches.

The properties were assembled through a land-exchange agreement between the city, B.C. Housing and the Greater Victoria School District, which will own the consolidated land parcel and lease it to the housing corporation. If council rejects the rezoning application, the land exchange will not proceed.

The plan calls for three existing townhouses on one of the lots to be torn down, along with an empty two-storey house on another property. The other seven lots are vacant.

Councillors acknowledged that the proposed development has received a “mixed” response from neighbours, with some raising concerns about the project’s height and density as well as the impact on traffic and nearby schools.

“But this project does offer a lot of what we need in our community in terms of affordable units, accessible units, family units, in a walkable location that’s close to everything that a family would need,” Coun. Jeremy Loveday said.

“So I definitely want to send this forward to hear from the public. I think when there’s a project that’s offering so many of the things that we direly need in our community, I personally feel that I need to at least send it to public hearing.”

Coun. Geoff Young was alone in opposition. He said the project has much to recommend it, given the city’s need for housing and particularly larger units of housing.

But he said public-sector landlords such as the housing corporation should be building smaller developments, rather than pursuing big land consolidations, increased density and large projects.

“I just don’t think that is the way we should be moving forward if we want these projects to be acceptable to the public,” he said.

“Overall, I have to agree with the neighbours that developing such a large project that deviates so substantially from the existing zoning and the traditional residential expectations of the area is not the way to go.”

It will likely be at least two months before the hearing takes place.

City staff say they’re planning to hold virtual public hearings and will explore whether there’s a way to allow in-person participation while still obeying provincial health orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.