Victoria has stepped up its efforts to block a large medical facility from being built on the old Blanshard Elementary School site by moving to down-zone the property.
Following an in camera discussion, Victoria councillors directed staff to prepare amendments to both the zoning bylaw and the Official Community Plan to limit the permitted uses of the former school site at 950 Kings Rd. to a school, park, community centre, gymnasium or fitness centre, daycare centre, art school, cultural centre, community garden or library.
“I think at this point, it makes sense for council to indicate clearly what the appropriate uses are,” said Coun. Ben Isitt, council liaison to the neighbourhood.
“Who knows in the future whether additional uses may be desirable and appropriate? But at this point, based on what I’ve heard from the public, this is an appropriate way to proceed.”
Councillors also asked city staff to explore with stakeholders the potential of earmarking the property for future residential or health-facility development that would include parkland and community amenities, as part of the development of an updated Hillside Quadra Neighbourhood Plan.
Coun. Geoff Young said it made sense to include a possible health facility as part of the exploration, given that the Capital Regional District bought the site with that in mind.
“I think that it is entirely reasonable to expect that the owners would be able to use the site at least in part for the facilities they were formed to provide — health-care facilities,” Young said. “I think there may well also be some housing on the site.”
The neighbourhood has been vocal in its opposition to the CRD’s preliminary plan to replace the former Blanshard Elementary School with a 50-bed mental-health facility and 150 units of social housing.
The former school is currently used by the Vancouver Island School of Art.
Young said the proposal that came forward from the CRD was “a long way” from what he envisioned for the site.
“Given the potential for higher densities on both Evergreen Terrace and this site and the school board site across the street to the north, there really was a potential of achieving something for everybody,” Young said.
“We could achieve better neighbourhood linkages. We could achieve at least as much supportive and assisted housing as we have now. We could achieve some market housing to pay for all this. We could achieve a health-care facility and we could also achieve some of the amenities that the neighbourhood directly values.”
Several residents have urged the city to buy the site from the CRD, something Mayor Lisa Helps says is unlikely given that it’s valued at about $14 million.
The CRD bought the site from the school district in 2016 for $5.8 million. It is zoned to permit a health facility. CRD spokesman Andy Orr said the CRD will continue to work with the city and the community to find an appropriate use for the site.