Proposal for 18-unit townhouse development runs into opposition from neighbours

City of Victoria staff are reviewing a proposal for a controversial 18-unit townhouse development on the border of Oak Bay.

The half-acre lot at 902 Foul Bay Rd. has been vacant since a 1911 heritage house burned to the ground in January 2016.

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Aryze Developments is proposing to construct two buildings on the property that will house 16 three-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units.

The proposal has run into opposition in the neighbourhood of largely single-family homes because of its density and a plan to remove 17 trees, including Garry oaks and two copper beeches. Opponents say as many as 27 of the 42 trees on the lot will be removed.

Lawn signs saying “Save the Trees at 902 Foul Bay” have been springing up on nearby streets, with nearly all neighbouring ­properties now sporting one.

Neighbour Peter Nadler said the company appears to have taken the position that those opposed to the proposal want to kill any kind of project that would add density to the site. In fact, he said, many opponents just don’t want to lose the trees to make way for housing that no one would consider affordable. Some, he said, might be in favour of an eight or 10-unit development on the site.

“We’re not against densification, but we are against losing the trees,” Nadler said. “You could lose one of the buildings and save a heck of a lot of trees and still densify.”

Luke Mari of Aryze Developments said the project will provide three-bedroom townhouses for $725,000 in a neighbourhood where the average price of three-bedroom homes is now $2.1 million.

“What’s being lost in the narrative is that the price to get in the gates is $2 million. So a brand new three-bedroom townhouse with a home warranty for $725,000 is much cheaper,” Mari said.

Aryze hopes to be able to offer the units at 20 per cent below market value through a program offered by B.C. Housing.

B.C. Housing confirmed that it’s working with Aryze on the company’s proposal, but said at this point, the housing authority has not approved it.

In a statement, B.C. Housing said it “will be working on next steps as the project obtains municipal approvals.”

Mari said under the proposal, the units would be sold at roughly $200,000 below their appraised values. “B.C. Housing takes a silent second mortgage on that difference and the federal government counts that as a down payment,” he said.

“So the buyer only has to put five per cent down, roughly $35,000, instead of 10 per cent, as per the B.C. Housing program. The federal government assumes a 25 per cent down payment, which gives people access to a longer amortization, better interest rates and overall more favourable approvals.”

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has requirements for how much down payment is required to secure a mortgage.

If buyers decide to sell in the future and the home has appreciated by $100,000, they have to return 20 per cent of that appreciation to B.C. Housing, which is then returned to the City of Victoria affordable housing fund.

“It really is quite an innovative program,” said Mari. “It’s the largest proposal in the province for townhouses under this program.”

Aryze Developments has already received 48 emails from people eager to buy the units, he said.

“We are hearing from people in the surrounding area who say: ‘This is perfect for my kids.’ ”

Aryze is applying to have the property rezoned from single-family to a site-specific custom zone for the proposal.

A revised plan submitted to the city says the project’s footprint is “no larger than the existing zoning allowance for four single-family homes or many of the existing homes in the area.”

The location is suited to increased density, since it’s close to walking, cycling and transit routes, the developer says.

Mari said the company plans to plant 44 new trees, planting native species in place of the non-native beech trees. “A tree can be replanted and grow again, but families being displaced out of neighbourhoods can’t.”

The three Aryze owners live in the neighbourhood, said Mari, adding neighbours’ opposition is disappointing, but not unexpected.

“It’s a democratic process and people have the right to oppose. But our company’s belief is that diverse communities need diverse housing for all incomes.”

City staff could ask for further revisions or forward the proposal to council’s committee of the whole.

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