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Victoria council OKs 313-unit housing project, next step is funding

Chown Place project is at an existing seniors housing development; B.C. Housing will be asked for money to build the new project

A major reimagining of a lower-cost seniors’ enclave in Victoria will make a dent in the need for affordable housing in the city, but it will still be years before the first new unit will invite its first tenant through the door.

Victoria council has given enthusiastic approval to a 313-unit master-planned housing project in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood. The massive project, which could take up to 20 years to fully build out, will replace Chown Place, a 108-unit low-rise seniors complex set on nearly six acres.

The new master plan calls for the 15 existing buildings at Chown Place to be replaced in a number of phases by four multi-unit buildings and three sets of townhomes.

It will be at least five or six years before the complex welcomes its first tenants.

Corinne Saad, executive director of the Gorge View Society, which operates Chown Place, said the society is completely dependent on funding from B.C. Housing and can’t start work until there’s money in place. “It’s totally dependent on government funding and for the next phase I would also need an operating subsidy as well as I can’t charge the rent that B.C. Housing wants to charge without that operating subsidy,” she said.

The project would include two large residential buildings as high as six storeys along Harriet Road with two other large residential complexes at the rear of the property bordered by Balfour Avenue.

One of the townhome structures would be at the north end of the property near Irma Street, with two others at the south end.

The project also calls for a community centre, green space, parks, urban gardens and a protected Garry oak meadow.

“My lone concern is that it will take so long,” said Coun. Marianne Alto before voting to approve it last week. “It’s hard to argue against 313 units of housing.”

There weren’t many arguments around the council table, with the project getting unanimous approval.

Coun. Stephen Andrew said his only regret is that the society didn’t ask for more density because he felt they would have had that approved too.

“Not only will this serve those desperately in need of housing, but it will serve the community and will develop more of a community at Chown Place,” he said.

There were concerns expressed by some residents in the area about losing some of their privacy, with large complexes rising above their back yards, while others were concerned about the lack of parking on already clogged streets and what an infusion of new people will mean for transportation.

Some existing residents of Chown Place expressed concern over the fact it will be a construction zone for years, and that young families will soon be part of the mix.

The master plan calls for a mix of 80 per cent seniors housing and 20 per cent families.

Saad said she understands some of the concerns.

“I don’t think we’ll be out of character with the neighborhood when we actually get to it,” she said. “But yes, right now it’s a change for the neighbourhood to swallow.”

The site is already under construction with a building that was approved a couple of years ago. It will add 58 units to the site and be the first to incorporate families.

That building is expected to accept new tenants next spring.

Saad said some residents are worried about having children and families living in the complex, but she said all the research points to a demographic mix helping to create a healthy community.

Saad also said accepting families is about addressing demand.

“The housing need for families in this neighbourhood is huge,” she said, noting the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood Association has hundreds of families on its lists hoping for housing.

Saad said she also has a list of more than 200 seniors who are looking for affordable housing in the city — the demand is so great she has stopped taking names.

The good news, she said, is there is a political will to make affordable housing happen, as witnessed by Victoria’s council doing its part.

“We’re in a province where every politician is acutely aware of the depth of the housing crisis,” she said. “But we are also a province where there are lots of competing financial priorities right now.”

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