City of Victoria faces court case over approval of Gonzales project

The City of Victoria is heading to court to defend its approval of a 2.5-storey townhouse project in the Gonzales neighbourhood.

Victoria resident John Wells has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to overturn council’s decision in August to allow the 20-unit Rhodo development at 1712 and 1720 Fairfield Rd.

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The mechanical engineering technologist, who lives near the proposed project, argues that council contravened the city’s official community plan by approving a development that exceeds the two-storey limit for buildings on that property.

The city and the developer have both filed responses in court saying the project was properly approved.

Wells hopes the case will be heard the week of Oct. 21.

In his petition, he says council failed to amend the community plan to allow a building to exceed the maximum height.

“They went ahead and approved this in contravention of the OCP, and that is the nugget that I’m taking them to court on,” Wells said in an interview.

“They did not have the authority to do that, and if they wanted to do that, they needed to go through a process of trying to amend the OCP.”

Wells noted that the official community plan was adopted in 2012 after consultation with more than 6,000 people.

“The OCP as a document was a representation of public trust,” he said.

Wells has raised more than $9,000 through the crowdsourcing site gofundme.com to help pay for the legal challenge.

The city states in its response to the petition that the development property is located in a “traditional residential” area that allows buildings up to three storeys in height along arterial and secondary arterial roads.

“The proposed development and the rezoning bylaw are consistent with the property’s urban place designation as traditional residential under the [official community plan] and satisfy other OCP policies and objectives,” the city states.

Aryze & Purdey Group make a similar argument on behalf of the numbered company that owns the properties. The developers note in their response that “council considered, debated and decided the rezoning bylaw was consistent with the [official community plan].”

In a report to council before it approved the project, city staff acknowledged the two-storey limit in the official community plan, but noted that the plan also indicates that development decisions will be based on “an evaluation of the context” as well as the policies and plans.

Staff concluded that 2.5 storeys was appropriate in this case given “the range of building heights, including one, two and three storeys” in the area and the fact that the property is located on a transit corridor in close proximity to an urban village.

“In addition, the proposed townhouses also help advance the [official community plan] housing objectives which encourage a diversity of housing types to create more home ownership options,” the report said.

Bill Eisenhauer, Victoria’s head of engagement, said the city is confident “that the process followed in relation to this rezoning was valid.”

The project was approved following a lengthy public hearing in August that heard from people on both sides of the debate.

Opponents complained that the project lacks sufficient green space, doesn’t fit with the neighbourhood, is too big for the site and would loom over Hollywood Park.

Those in favour of the project said it would increase density, improve the diversity of housing in the Gonzales neighbourhood, help fight climate change and provide more affordable-housing options for seniors and young families.

“When we build this kind of housing where people live, where they already need to be, where they can walk to Thrifty, where they can bike downtown, where they can take their kids to childcare, we’re reducing greenhouse-gas emissions just by the way that we’re building the city,” said Mayor Lisa Helps, who voted in support of the project.

Coun. Geoff Young sided with those who expressed concern about the project’s size. “Unfortunately, this one — though, as I say, it has a lot to recommend it — is just going too far, proposing too much,” he said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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