The City of Victoria has spent $9.595 million to buy two parcels of land in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, across the street from the Our Place drop-in centre.
It has not revealed plans for the site, other than that it’s part of efforts to address the city’s affordable-housing shortage.
“This long-term investment is part of the city’s action plan to address affordable housing, and provide more community services and programs in the downtown and North Park neighbourhoods,” said Victoria spokesman Bill Eisenhauer, who described the property as “strategically located.”
The opportunity to buy the parcels arose several months ago and the sale closed April 2, he said, adding the city will have more to say on plans for the site at a later date. “Our focus right now is on supporting residents and the local business community as we respond to the COVID-19 health emergency.”
Many people without homes have set up tents in the 900 block of Pandora and at Topaz Park. The province is working with social agencies to move residents into hotels and the rink floor of the Memorial Centre to give them shelter and keep them apart during the pandemic.
Our Place, at 919 Pandora Ave., provides drop-in services and works with a wide range of city residents, including those who are homeless and those with mental-health and addiction issues. People drawn to that area often gather at the properties just purchased by the city.
Victoria bought the lots from Kang and Gill Construction Ltd. for $9.595 million in total, Eisenhauer said. The two lots combined total 28,880 square feet. As a package, they border Pandora Avenue and Mason Street, with a McDonald’s restaurant to the east.
The properties are zoned for commercial use, but under the official community plan, the area is designated for residential use, Eisenhauer said.
The 930 Pandora Ave. parcel (also known as 932) contains low-rise older commercial buildings, assessed at $73,300. The other parcel, at 926 Pandora Ave., is covered with asphalt with no buildings.
Harold Stanley, co-chair of the North Park Neighbourhood Association’s land-use committee, said the community is concerned about the height, density and traffic impact of developments, and is keen to retain the distinctive character of the neighbourhood. “We don’t know what’s coming out [from the city] and we are really hoping that the city engages with us in a constructive manner so that we can work with them on whatever is proposed.”
Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place, said the agency is not involved in any talks with the city, but would “certainly be excited about the possibility.”
The site has plenty of potential, said McKenzie, who envisions a building with a floor of housing for women, a floor for sober living, another for couples, and a dining room for residents. It could also include a ground-floor commercial laundry operated as a social enterprise by the Our Place population, giving people training and the ability to earn a living wage, he said.
It’s unclear whether the city will develop the site on its own, or in partnership with another agency.
Two years ago, Kang and Gill proposed to build a 148-unit, 11-storey condominium project on the site, with 10% of the units for rent at below-market rates, five townhouses on the Mason Street side and ground-floor commercial on Pandora.
At the time, some members of council expressed concern that street people would be displaced. The project never went ahead.