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Longtime restaurant comes down as University Heights demolition continues

J.J. Morgan restaurant at McKenzie and Cedar Hill Road was knocked down Thursday as demolition work continues on the site in preparation for a four-year, $230-million redevelopment

Demolition of J.J. Morgan restaurant at McKenzie and Cedar Hill Road on Thursday marked the final chapter for the Gordon Head staple, which shut its doors in 2020 when owner Russell Eng retired.

It’s all part of work to pave the way for a four-year, $230-million redevelopment project on the site of the University Heights shopping centre.

Demolition began a few months ago in the area of the parking garage and will see the shopping centre taken down in its entirety, said outgoing Saanich mayor Fred Haynes.

The shopping centre, which was built in the 1980s, was sold by Wesbild Holdings to South Carolina-based real-estate company Greystar in the spring, just before the redevelopment plan went to council for a final reading.

Redevelopment plans for the property bordered by Shelbourne Street, McKenzie Avenue and Cedar Hill Road include more than 590 rental units — with 60 of them to be designated as affordable — along with 11,000 square feet of daycare space, cycling facilities, a public plaza and a B.C. Transit hub on the McKenzie Avenue/Shelbourne Street property.

The Home Depot store on the property is set to be expanded by 10,000 square feet and is expected to remain open during the site’s redevelopment. The development will eventually include three standalone buildings and added greenery, Haynes said.

Saanich mayor-elect Dean Murdock, who is expected to be sworn in as mayor at Monday’s inaugural council meeting, said “there’s been a lot of anticipation” about the work getting underway. “It’s a project that was in review and discussion for a long time before it was finally approved.”

He said the scope of the project is similar to the overhaul of the Town & Country shopping centre at Douglas Street and Saanich Road, which became the Uptown shopping precinct. “It’s that significant in the way that it will reshape and recharacterize what is a very significant corridor in the District of Saanich,” Murdock said.

The University Heights redevelopment is going ahead amid the second phase of the Shelbourne Street Improvement Project. The first phase was completed in July, with bike lanes installed on Shelbourne north of McKenzie Avenue to Torquay Drive.

Another redevelopment has been proposed directly across McKenzie from University Heights, Murdock said. “That intersection at McKenzie and Shelbourne, of course, is going to be a very busy one in terms of construction activity,” he said. “In the longer term, there’s going to be a considerable makeover of that area.”

He said it’s good to see the current level of construction happening “at a time when we’re potentially dipping into a recession.”

Haynes said the redevelopment in the works across McKenzie includes 600 rental units and a medical facility.

Chris Poirier-Skelton, president of the Gordon Head Residents’ Association, said residents worry about traffic flow and parking arising from the coming changes. If the project across McKenzie is approved, “there will be double the amount of traffic in and out of that area,” she said, raising concerns about pedestrian safety.

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