Christie Point hearing expected to attract a flood of speakers

A $200-million proposal that would replace a 161-unit apartment complex building with 473 new rental units is expected to attract more speakers to a public hearing June 27 than View Royal council chambers can handle.

The Realstar Group would replace the two-storey Christie Point Apartments, with its two- and three-bedroom units, with buildings of up to six storeys. Suites would range from studios to three-bedroom units.

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The site is on the Portage Inlet peninsula.

The hearing into the most significant housing development in View Royal history will take place at the Songhees Wellness Centre.

Mayor David Screech said councillors “will sit there for three, four or five hours if we need to” until everyone who wants to address the Realstar proposal has been heard.

Council voted 3-2 this week to send the proposal to the hearing.

“It’s not over yet,” said tenant Judith Newnham of Christie Point Advocates on Wednesday.

The organization will meet with the Portage Inlet Protection Society, which is also against the proposal, and other stakeholders to continue letting the mayor and council know how strongly they feel, she added.

The group says the proposed skyline for Realstar’s development would extend 370 metres and that none of the trees on the site are as tall as the 26 metres proposed for some of the six-storey buildings.

The proposal was already approved by two View Royal community advisory committees and recommended by the planning department, but a standing-room-only crowd at council was dead set against it.

Opponents say the development is too dense, too tall and too intrusive for the sensitive environment of the kilometre-long Portage Inlet peninsula, a federal bird sanctuary since 1923.

Coun. Heidi Rast voted against sending the issue to public hearing, citing the density and scale of the project. She’d like to see at least one storey lopped off the plans, preferably two.

She also suggested the project is “almost like a big eviction,” fearing such a development would end up “out of reach for a lot of the tenants” in future.

Coun. Ron Mattson voted against sending the matter to public hearing on the grounds that the current rents should be grandfathered in for tenants who want to return to the new units should they be built, Screech said. “That alone was enough for him.”

Screech said the meeting was “a little bit tense” and emotional, and because of the tenants’ fears, he allowed the public to speak to the matter for 90 minutes, rather than the 30 minutes typically allotted at council meetings.

“I understand where they’re coming from 100 per cent,” he said, “but in my mind it is not reasonable to say there can be no change. The buildings are nearing the end of their lives.”

Screech said View Royal has worked hard to encourage Realstar to up its tenancy compensation package to include a year’s notice to vacate, moving expenses, packing expenses for those unable to pack, disconnection and connection costs for utilities, and first right of refusal for new units along with a rebate of two months’ rent in the first year.

Members of Christie Point Advocates want a tenant relations officer and financial compensation based on length of tenancy.

Many older, longtime tenants are not ready for online apartment searches, pet references and other realities of the modern-day apartment search in a hot market, said tenant Ann Jordan-Mills.

“At a recent open house for a rental unit, people were lining up around the block to look at what was offered,” she told council.

“This is not comfortable for anyone, much less older seniors or people with mobility difficulties.”

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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