An independent look would get projects off to better start: Helps

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is proposing the city use a neutral third party at the start of the development process in the hope of reducing neighbourhood conflicts over contentious developments.

“We can’t keep having these kind of adversarial processes,” Helps said.

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She said having the developer, community members and city staff meet with a third-party facilitator before any plans are drawn might help “things get off on a better foot.”

Helps cites three “particularly contentious” developments in this term that did not get off to a good start and that that might have benefited from the process.

• BlueSky Properties’ 209-unit, mixed-use commercial and rental development on the former St. Andrews School site.

• The 53-suite, five-storey housing project by Urban Core Ventures at Cook Street and Oliphant Avenue.

• Abstract Developments’ 83-unit condominium-townhouse project on the former Truth Centre property at 1201 Fort St., in Rockland.

The suggested process might even begin before a Community Association Land Use Committee meeting, with each party offering its requirements and preferences.

The independent third-party might then be able to suggest a path forward that meets the needs of all those involved.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything, but I think if we at least try to get these things started better, it might be that everyone’s interests are heard at the beginning,” Helps said.

Costs would be borne by the city. If approved by council, staff are to report back on the budget implications and suggest funding mechanisms.

Helps notes the high pace of development isn’t expected to slow down soon.

“Change is absolutely hard and Victoria is growing and that’s hard,” Helps said.

“I think part of good change management is making sure that peoples’ voices are heard and that the loss associated with change is acknowledged.”

Mike Miller, president of Abstract Developments, supports the initiative.

He is in favour of a “facilitation mechanism that would bring consistency, predictability and fairness to the rezoning/land development process for all stakeholders.”

Helps’ report says there are about 1,800 units of rental housing alone in the development pipeline at city hall.

“Couple this private sector investment in rental housing with the $90 million Regional Housing First Program, which will see 2,000 units of new rental housing built in the region and it’s clear new housing will continue to be built,” the report says.

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