Harris Green tower project must increase affordable units to move forward

One of the largest development projects Victoria has seen in years must boost affordable-housing units and meet several other conditions before it can move to a public hearing.

Toronto developer Starlight is proposing a transformation of one and a half city blocks bordered by Yates and View streets and Cook and Quadra streets.

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The project would see existing buildings torn down in the 900 block of Yates Street, and at the corner of Yates Street and Cook, to construct a mixed-use development that includes more than 1,500 rental units in towers up to 32 storeys tall, along with commercial space, a daycare, office space and a public plaza. Two residential towers at Yates and Vancouver streets, between the two parcels, would remain.

The first phase of development would focus on 1045 Yates St., the site of the Harris Victoria vehicle dealership, and would include two residential towers of 20 and 21 storeys, with ground-floor commercial space, six townhouse units and a daycare.

The 900 block of Yates, which currently houses a commercial complex that includes London Drugs, Market on Yates grocery store, small shops, restaurants and a liquor store, would feature three towers of 28 to 32 storeys.

An existing building at 990 View St. would be redeveloped, resulting in the loss of 15 rental units. At least 23 new units would be secured as affordable rental housing.

Councillors voted 5-4 Thursday to move forward with the project if the developer meets several conditions, including increasing affordable units to at least 15 per cent (with at least 33 per cent during the first phase of development), increasing the number of two- and three-bedroom units, ensuring the public plaza is mostly “park-like green space,” providing five per cent accessible units and securing at least 450 square metres for child-care space.

The project will need to return to councillors for a vote on aspects of the proposal that require amendments to the city’s official community plan.

Coun. Marianne Alto said there’s clearly discomfort about the height and density of the project. “There’s no getting around it — it’s huge. And I think that that is really anomalous and unusual for Victoria.”

However, the project is the type of development the city will have to consider downtown as the city grows, she said.

In response to councillors’ concerns about the size of the towers, staff said the development would likely be smaller if they were condos, but higher density is needed to make rental projects feasible.

Mayor Lisa Helps said housing supply is her biggest concern and it’s necessary to push the limits of density to meet housing needs. She called the project the most difficult land-use decision she has faced.

“I can’t in good conscience turn back housing, particularly rental housing,” she said, citing a city report that showed Victoria is between 4,500 and 6,300 units short of housing units to meet current needs.

Coun. Sharmarke Dubow, who voted against the project along with councillors Geoff Young, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Ben Isitt, said while he supported the conditions, he could not agree to the project moving forward until he saw the changes.

Isitt questioned whether allowing up to 32 storeys when the maximum allowed by current guidelines is 20 could lead to a “slippery slope,” rendering city policies essentially meaningless.

Josh Kaufman, vice-president of development and construction at Starlight, said the company will review the amendments to determine next steps.


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