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On second thought, Victoria approves 42-unit rental project in Fairfield

The Fairfield ­neighbourhood will get 42 new units of rental ­housing after the City of ­Victoria Thursday night approved Empresa Properties’ second effort at a market rental project in the 1100-block of ­Burdett Avenue.

The Fairfield ­neighbourhood will get 42 new units of rental ­housing after the City of ­Victoria Thursday night approved Empresa Properties’ second effort at a market rental project in the 1100-block of ­Burdett Avenue.

Council voted 6-2 to approve the project that will see three older homes removed from the site at 1120-1128 Burdett Ave. and work start on a new five-storey building early in 2022.

Two of the existing homes will be de-constructed with ­materials salvaged, and a third will be moved by house-moving ­specialists Nickel Brothers to new location.

“We are extremely ­grateful for this council seeing this project through,” said Empresa founder Karl Robertson, who noted the recently passed Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan opened the door for another shot at the project. “It allowed us to come back to the drawing board.”

The project was rejected by council in 2018 because it did not fit the context of the neighbourhood, being too tall and covering too much of the site.

Robertson said a redesign that established a three-storey façade at the front of the building stepping up to five storeys at the rear, generous landscaping with an open courtyard and diverse housing options including three three-bedroom units made the difference.

The project also promises larger units and more two-­bedroom units than it provided for in 2018.

While there were several members of the public who spoke in favour of the project Thursday night, most of them citing the city’s desperate need for more rental units to deal with the housing crisis, there were those who took issue with the plans.

Some noted the lack of parking in the area will not be improved with the ­construction of 42 new units, despite the project coming with 40 underground parking spaces, and bemoaned the loss of older homes and character from the neighbourhood.

A neighbour of the ­building site said he feared losing his view and quality of life as he would feel surrounded by a ­concrete jungle with the ­addition of a taller multi-unit building, while another said the developer didn’t listen to area residents’ initial concerns about the height of the building and lack of open space.

Mayor Lisa Helps, who said she was horrified that the project was initially turned down in 2018, noted the delay will mean a significant increase in construction costs and that is likely to be passed on in rental rates.

“Sometimes when we turn things down, they come back more expensive,” she said.

“We would have preferred to build it out in 2018 when construction costs were lower but that’s not the position we’re in,” said Robertson, noting the construction budget will be about $20 million.

The company expects the permit process will take about 10 months and then as many as 18 months to finish construction.

Nine tenants live in the three older homes, and the company has promised to offer assistance in finding new homes, and also to offer each tenant first right of refusal on a unit in the new building at the same rental rate they currently pay. That promise is expected to be a 35 per cent discount on market rental rates.

Helps suggested that could be seen as a “best practice” and something other developers ought to take into consideration.

Coun. Geoff Young, one of the negative votes, said because it is a bigger building than the first design Empresa brought forward and would have a negative effect on neighbours’ quality of life, he had to vote against it. Young said those neighbours are paying the bill — losing views, light and facing concrete structures — for council’s desire to have more density in rental buildings.

aduffy@timescolonist.com