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Townhouse project narrowly approved for Swan Lake area

Many area residents had expressed concern about the size of the project, which would replace three single-family homes with 25 townhomes
An artist's rendering of Abstract Developments' 25-unit townhouse proposal for Swan Lake. Via RLA Architecture

The developer behind a controversial townhouse project near Swan Lake says there is a chance the project — narrowly approved by Saanich council late Tuesday night — could be changed slightly to address neighbourhood concerns.

Saanich council voted 5-4 to approve Abstract’s 25-unit townhouse project at the northeast corner of Rainbow Street and Sevenoaks Road. The townhouse complex would replace three single-family homes.

Many residents in the neighbourhood said they support increased density on the site but 25 units is too large.

Mike Miller, founder of Abstract Developments, did not rule out tweaks to the project, saying the firm will take time to absorb feedback from residents and council heard over three public hearings.

“It gives us no pleasure to see so many people in the neighbourhood come out and speak against a project like this,” said Miller. “I’m not sure we’re going to proceed with this in exactly the same form. We’re looking at perhaps how we could make this project a little better and retool it a little bit.”

Coun. Colin Plant said he empathized with those concerned about road safety, tree loss and impact on the nearby Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary, but it was the change to the neighbourhood character that tipped him against the project.

Plant said while he supports additional density on the site, 25 units is too much. “I would encourage the applicant to come back with a slightly smaller ­project based on the data provided and the building needs of Saanich.”

But Coun. Zac de Vries said the application, which has been in the works since 2019, ticks a lot of boxes for Saanich and ­provides density in the midst of a housing shortage.

He said it aligns with Saanich’s official community plan, climate action plan, active transportation plan and housing strategy.

“To reject something on the basis of how many people turn out is not a proper process,” he said. “I understand how hard change is. This is the first non- single-family home essentially in the neighborhood and I do appreciate the anxiety that brings, but I think this will be beloved in the end and will provide a vibrancy because it’s people that make neighbourhoods exciting.”

Coun. Karen Harper called the project a relatively sensitive form of infill housing that is “absolutely consistent with our policy framework.”

Mayor Dean Murdock said he hopes the project brings more than new units to Swan Lake.

“I’m hopeful that in creating 25 townhouses in this location, we’re creating the opportunity for 25 families to also put down roots in the community, which is obviously so well loved, and that they will love it, too,” he said.

Miller said the company would like to break ground on the project early next year, which would give it a year to see what it could do to make the project more palatable.

“We want to bring a good project to the community,” he said.

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