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Victoria looks at new neighbourhood plans to tackle housing crunch

The new plans paint a picture of increasing housing capacity in several zones, in some cases allowing more multi-family projects in traditional residential zones.
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Fernwood could be one area that sees enhanced village areas. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The City of Victoria will consider adopting new neighbourhood plans for Fernwood, North Park and Quadra-Hillside to help create new and diverse housing options.

The committee of the whole voted Thursday to move forward with new plans for the three neighbourhoods, which could mean new housing options, new housing designation zones focusing on rental housing and affordability, increased density and new “village” areas.

The new plans paint a picture of increasing housing capacity in several zones, in some cases allowing more multi-family projects in traditional residential zones.

A staff report presented to council said there could be a significant increase in housing capacity along Bay Street, Finlayson Avenue and Quadra Street, and throughout Fernwood and North Park. There would also be enhanced village centres along Bay Street, Hillside Avenue and within Fernwood and North Park that would offer more opportunity for new shops and services to serve a growing population.

There are also allowances for improvements along both Bay Street and Hillside Avenue to revitalize the streets, make them more comfortable for pedestrians and improve mobility.

The plans, based on feedback from residents over the past two years, take a broad look at the three neighbourhoods and envision what could be possible over the next 20 years. They are also an attempt to get a handle on the expected growth in Victoria.

According to a staff report, which acknowledged the city is behind in addressing people’s housing needs, the city is expected to add 11,300 new households between now and 2040.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the plans, which reflect thousands of hours of staff work and public input, are definitely ready for a public hearing.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from the public in the three neighbourhoods in particular, with this strong housing thrust,” she said.

While there was appreciation around the committee table for the depth of information included in the draft plans, some councillors were hoping for more input from neighbourhood associations to be included.

While that is expected to come during the public hearing phase of the project, Coun. Ben Isitt pushed to have written comments from the Downtown-Blanshard Advisory Committee, the Fernwood Community Association, the Hillside-Quadra Neighbourhood Action Committee and the North Park Neighbourhood Association to be included for discussion during the May 19 council meeting when the plans will be debated.

Isitt tried, in vain, to have the matter postponed so the public could have more time to digest the weight of the reports.

“The amount of work and analysis that’s gone into this report and [the missing-middle housing report] is substantial. It’s probably fair to say it’s the biggest piece of policy work and planning that is occurring this term,” he said.

Isitt said it’s a lot of information for council to digest, to say nothing of what the average resident will be faced with.

“It does make me really worry about the timeline we’re acting under. And I know there’s been a huge amount of momentum building — the train left the station within the planning department and among several council members a few years ago — but I don’t think the public’s ready for the train to roll into the station with decisions approaching finality today or in a week or two.“

The public has another two weeks to digest the proposed neighbourhood plans before council debates the matter again. If council votes to proceed at that point, it would schedule a public hearing as enacting the plans would require amending the official community plan.

The plans can be viewed at engage.victoria.ca/fernwood-north-park-hillside-quadra.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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