Proposed affordable-housing rental building sent to hearing

A proposal to build 65 units of affordable and moderately priced rental apartments across Blanshard Street from Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre will go to public hearing.

The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society wants to build a seven-storey building, to be called the Azzurro, at 1950 Blanshard St., near Discovery Street, that would provide three studio suites and 62 one-bedroom units.

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Only Coun. Geoff Young voted against, raising concerns that the city should be looking at the proposal as an opportunity to knit the community back together by pushing the development closer to Blanshard Street itself, rather than having it front the secondary Blanshard that currently exists.

“I think this represents a lost opportunity, which is distressing to me,” said Young, calling Blanshard a “semi-freeway” that acts as a divide in the city.

“This doubling of Blanshard Street represents the epitome of 1960s automobile-oriented thinking,” he said.

“The idea was minimize the intersections on Blanshard Street so that cars can move at a good clip all the time without worrying about intersections.”

But Coun. Chris Coleman noted that closing the secondary Blanshard Street is not up to the applicant.

“The reality is we can’t lay that on the applicant at this time. That’s not in their purview at all,” Coleman said. “They respond to the lands that they have and they give a development response that we have to judge on its merits.”

City planning staff said that the project is accessed off Discovery Street, so it doesn’t preclude a closing of the shadow Blanshard roadway in the future.

The rental development society says that 43 units in the Azzurro would be for low-income residents and 22 for moderate-income with rental rates to be set at no more than 30 per cent of household income.

The proposal includes underground parking for 27 vehicles to be accessed off Discovery Street. Twenty spaces would be available for residents; two for visitors and seven for commercial uses.

The society planned to provide Car Share Co-op memberships to all units, provide free bus passes to residents for a year and contribute $20,000 to a transportation fund to provide financial assistance to residents who use the car share or rent or buy bicycles.

After an earlier review of the project, councillors had asked that the advisory design panel review the proposal and that consideration be given to providing tenants with bus passes for five years instead of just one.

But the society said that would cost $66,300 a year — an estimated $331,500 over five years — and would be prohibitively expensive. After negotiating with city staff, it was decided to suggest the $20,000 transportation fund instead.

Young also raised concerns about the lack of parking.

“To me, I am still troubled by the suggestion that it can do with such a minimal amount of residential parking,” Young said.

Several councillors and Mayor Dean Fortin said they were pleased with design changes made in the wake of the review by the design panel.

He also said it’s important to advance 65 units of affordable housing.

“That’s important to our community,” Fortin said.

“I also appreciate the innovation that’s gone into the transportation. We’re not spending a whole lot of money putting three or four more storeys of underground car [parking], which really drives up the price but rather we have an active and interesting transportation plan.”

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