Victoria council OKs four-tower Harris Green project that includes fire hall and housing

Victoria city council has given the go-ahead to a contentious four-tower development in the Harris Green neighbourhood that includes a new No. 1 Fire Hall and 130 units of affordable housing.

Following a lengthy public hearing on Thursday night, councillors unanimously approved zoning and official community plan amendments that will allow the project to proceed on half a city block bordered by Johnson, Cook and Yates Streets.

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Dalmatian Developments, a partnership between Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd., plans to develop the 1.8-acre site in four phases with towers of 12, 14, 15 and 17 storeys at 1025-1031 Johnson St. and 1050 Yates St. A car dealership and a parking lot are on the site now.

Council granted a development permit for the initial phase of the project, which features a public safety building on the first two floors of a 12-storey tower at 1025 Johnson St.

There will be fire and ambulance bays at street level, a new emergency operations centre and fire department headquarters on the second floor, office space on the third and 130 units of affordable rental housing on the remaining floors.

Pacifica Housing, a non-profit housing provider, will operate the affordable units, which include a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom suites for people with very low to moderate incomes.

The entire building will be built to survive a major earthquake so that emergency responders can continue working in the event of a disaster.

David Jawl of Jawl Residential said the company hopes to begin construction in January and finish the first phase within three years.

“Our first priority is to deliver the public safety building and the affordable housing, and we’re actually required to do so,” he said. “And then we would look to subsequent phases as the market progresses.”

The other three phases will include a mix of commercial and retail space, restaurants, and a 2,700-square-foot pocket park and plaza facing south on Yates Street.

It will also have an array of housing stock, ranging from apartments to live-work spaces and condominiums.

“Our vision is for a diversity of housing options,” Jawl said.

A number of speakers at the public hearing warned council against overriding the official community plan to allow for increased density. They voiced concerns about noise, dust, shade and the wisdom of locating several emergency services in one building.

Others, however, highlighted the shortage of affordable housing in the city as well as the need for a state-of-the-art fire hall that can withstand a major earthquake.

In the end, councillors argued that the ongoing housing and climate crises justified amending the community plan to allow the project to proceed.

“One of the problems with the official community plan, and the way that it’s used sometimes, is that it’s wielded as a shield against change,” Mayor Lisa Helps said. “And I don’t think that’s right.”

She said council wasn’t in the middle of a housing crisis when it approved the official community plan in 2012 or it might look far different today.

“Putting this amount of housing and this amount of density on this site responds to the housing crisis, but it also responds to the climate crisis,” she said. “We mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions by putting people where they want to live, where they can walk to work.

“So I think this is the right amount of density, in the right place, in the right way, at the right time.”

Coun. Sarah Potts agreed.

“In the context of a housing crisis, I cannot with good conscience vote against 130 homes,” she said.

Coun. Geoff Young acknowledged concerns raised by the Downtown Residents Association about the project’s density, but added: “I also trust the expertise of our planning department that suggests that the heights and densities are not unreasonable.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

> Project’s website: JohnsonCookYates.com

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