Douglas St. project deemed too small, sent to design panel

A proposal to redevelop a couple of vacant Douglas Street storefronts at 1823 Douglas St. was almost turned down by Victoria councillors this week because the proposed new building is too small.

Instead, it was moved forward to the advisory design panel for a review of proposed finishes and landscaping, but will still need council approval before it can go ahead.

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The property is owned by Yu Man Ng and Rafael Antonio Ng. The proposal made by Praxis Architects would replace vacant, deteriorating storefronts (including the site of the notorious Red Hot Video) at the corner of Douglas and Caledonia Avenue with a new one-storey plus mezzanine 3,600-square-foot sushi restaurant within the footprint of the old building.

Seven surface parking stalls would be at the back, accessed from Caledonia.

Map 1823 Douglas St.

But the new development doesn’t meet objectives for the area spelled out in the Official Community Plan and the Downtown Core Area Plan, which envision either higher density highrise commercial buildings or low- to medium-rise mixed-use buildings in a commercial/residential development along Douglas, which is a transit corridor.

City permit guidelines also say new development should enhance any special value or heritage character of other buildings in the area, said director of planning Deb Day. She said there is some question whether the proposed stucco-and-concrete block sushi restaurant would adequately do that.

And, the guidelines intend parking to be underground, whereas the proposal called for surface parking because the lot is too small to build underground.

“It is challenging because the intention of the guidelines is to foster intensification … and something that reads as a building along the street,” Day told councillors sitting this week as a planning committee.

“This, with the surface parking and other things, hasn’t gone as far as we would like.”

With four council members absent, the remaining five councillors on the committee ultimately decided in a 3-2 vote to forward the application to the design panel.

Coun. Lisa Helps argued against the move, saying she didn’t want to waste the proponent’s time and money by moving it forward.

“You can do all the fixing up of this design you want. It’s still going to come back to us and it doesn’t meet the objectives of our OCP,” Helps said.

She added approval of the project would also have the effect of orphaning three buildings immediately to the south.

Coun. Pam Madoff was also opposed.

“There are many times when an application cannot meet the intent of a city policy, but there are very significant efforts made to meet the spirit of our policies. What I found very disappointing here is, not only does it not meet the intent of the policy, which is the densification, it doesn’t meet the aspects of the spirit of the policy that talk about high-quality urban design, a high quality of architecture and a high quality of architectural finishes,” Madoff said.

“I would have been much more persuaded if I had seen that effort going into it.”

Coun. Geoff Young called the application a “reminder of the limits of the power of a city council.”

“We can prevent people from building things, but we can’t make them build things. To do that, we have to create the conditions that make people want to build things,” Young said.

Young along with councillors Chris Coleman and Charlayne Thornton-Joe voted to send the application forward.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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