Condo tower at edge of Elk/Beaver Lake Park clears hurdle in Saanich

A controversial condominium development rising 11 storeys on the edge of Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park has cleared a public hearing with the support of Saanich council.

Councillors approved development variance permits for the angular 1.3-hectare property along Elk Lake Drive after a two-day public hearing, where the proposed development drew both criticism — for its height and proximity to the regional park — and support, for its design and the need for density and housing options for the growing municipality.

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Mike Geric Construction Ltd. is proposing two buildings on the Dorel Forest Park site, starting at 11 storeys and “terracing down” to a five-storey structure beside neighbouring apartments and townhouse developments.

The project would contain a total of 242 condos, including 43 that would be secured in perpetuity as “affordable” and sold at 15 per cent below the appraised value.

Council ultimately decided the way to prevent more urban sprawl and provide new housing options was to build higher, voting 7-2 to move the project to a final reading. The only hurdles that remain include an agreement with the developer on amenities and environmental features and other technical issues, as well as a contract with the Capital Regional District on the affordable-housing component.

Judy Brownoff and Nathalie Chambers were opposed, both citing environmental concerns.

The Royal Oak development, on the edge of the ­municipality’s urban containment boundary, will be a landmark along the Pat Bay Highway as one of the tallest buildings in ­Saanich, although buildings in the Uptown area could eventually go as high as 18 to 22 storeys.

Coun. Colin Plant said the decision wasn’t easy, ­acknowledging the community is split on the issue. “I live in Royal Oak and I’ve watched [the site] sit undeveloped for years. There is a dire housing ­shortage, and an acute shortage in Saanich. Density will help lessen the demand and [contain] more urban sprawl.”

Residents of two Royal Oak community associations expressed concerns about the development’s height and ­potential impact on the park, as well as noise and traffic.

Council heard dozens of speakers and received hundreds of emails during the public ­hearing.

Resident Burl Jantzen noted the urban containment boundary was created in 1968 to preserve rural areas for farming and forests, and argued maximizing the density of housing in the area will put significant additional pressure on Elk/Beaver Lake Park, as has happened at Thetis Lake Park.

Diana and Matthew Ellis, who live next door to the property said in an email that an 11-storey apartment building next to the park “will stick out like a sore thumb.”

Critics also pointed out the project’s height exceeds a four-storey limit in the municipality’s official community plan, while speakers at the public hearing said a covenant on the property in place for decades restricts the site to 98 residential units.

The Capital Regional District, however, said in a report to council that it has no objections to the project, which helped tip some councillors in favour.

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she recognizes that not everyone will be happy with the decision, but it’s in the long-term interests of the community. “It puts people in places to access goods and services without relying on a private automobile.”

Coun. Karen Harper said the project will help house the district’s growing population. “The statistics are showing Saanich will reach its projected population numbers by 2024 — 10 to 15 years ahead of what was originally anticipated in the regional growth strategy.”

Coun. Susan Bryce admitted she was swayed by the “thoughtful design with style” by architect Franc D’Ambrosio. She said the step-down design was not only attractive, but good for neighbouring condominium buildings. The 11-storey part of the building faces trees in the regional park.

Brownoff opposed it, however, based on proximity to the regional park and the loss of about 55 mature trees. She said she liked the design, but couldn’t support it because “of the density at the edge of the urban containment boundary and up against a natural park … there will be impacts.”

It was a major victory for the developer. Mike Geric Construction submitted its first application to build on the site in 2013, but it never made it past the staff level. This was the company’s third version of revised plans. It’s taken about 16 months from submitting the new application with a reduced footprint and additional height to this week’s public hearing, including several tweaks with Saanich staff and discussions with neighbours, said Greg Gillespie, development manager for Mike Geric Construction.

Gillespie expects to move to working drawings and the permit stage before the end of the year. Construction could start early next year.

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