Telus Ocean building in downtown Victoria advances to public hearing

A controversial plan to erect a 12-storey office tower with a massive glass facade at Douglas and Humboldt streets will advance to a public hearing despite concerns about its height, density and infringement on street views of the Olympic Mountains.

Victoria city councillors voted 5-4 on Thursday to move the Telus Ocean project ahead, citing the need to support downtown, job creation and economic growth.

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“Yes, there’s a lot of requested extra density in this project,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

“But there are also the kind of clean, well-paying jobs that any city would be envious of at this point in the middle of a global recession.

“Most importantly, for me, this building and this proposal says something about who Victoria is: a place for innovation, a place that looks at the future, and, most importantly, a place that believes in its downtown.”

Telus announced last year that it had agreed to purchase the city-owned Apex site north of Victoria’s historic Crystal Garden for $8.1 million and possibly another $1.1 million depending on the final proposal approved after the rezoning process.

The company says the building will serve as regional headquarters for about 250 people and house an innovation centre that will showcase the latest technologies.

City staff had recommended referring the project back to the developers and asking them to move the building 10 metres to the east to reduce its impact on views of the Olympic Mountains from Douglas Street.

But a number of councillors felt that would create even more problems because then the building would be too close to residents to the east.

“I don’t think any movement of this building eastward is going to be met with anything other than horror, frankly,” Coun. Marianne Alto said.

Alto acknowledged concerns about the building’s height, but said it’s no higher than some of the adjacent buildings and will provide an anchor point for future commercial and office space in the area.

As well, Alto described the building as a “spectacular example” of the city’s struggle to evolve from a big town to a small city.

“This is a vision of a future that I think Victoria warrants,” she said.

“I think we deserve this. And I think that this really quite remarkable design is going to be something that people will look at years from now and wonder how — in the context of everything else that’s happening in 2020 and 2021 — that some council, somewhere, took a chance and built something like this.”

Others were less convinced. Coun. Geoff Young expressed concern about the building’s density and Coun. Ben Isitt argued that the project “overreaches” by trying to achieve too much on a relatively constrained site.

“If this particular parcel is going to be redeveloped, I think it needs to take a lighter touch and be more consistent with the [official community plan] and downtown core area plan guidelines and policies relating to height and massing and density,” Isitt said.

Coun. Stephen Andrew voted in support of sending the project to public hearing, but warned the developer to pay attention to residents’ concerns.

“Don’t think this is a done deal because each one of us has an … opportunity to vote this down when it comes in front of a public hearing,” Andrew said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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