Victoria council OKs plan to redevelop Plaza Hotel on Government Street for housing

Victoria council has given the go-ahead to redevelopment of the Victoria Plaza Hotel despite concerns raised about the development’s lack of sensitivity to history.

Council voted 6-3 in favour of the project proposed by GMC Projects Ltd. and League Assets to construct a six-storey, 105-unit building around a renovated and seismically upgraded four-storey hotel building at Government Street and Pandora Avenue.

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An existing one-storey addition to the north side of the hotel facing Pandora Avenue is to be removed and replaced with a new six-storey wing.

While the hotel's historic Government Street front is to be restored, a good portion of the existing hotel building, primarily along the rear, is to be removed so an interior courtyard — accessed from Pandora —  can be created.

Councillors Pam Madoff, Shellie Gudgeon and Ben Isitt, voted against the proposal.

Madoff said her expectation was for “high-quality design,” a target she didn’t think was met particularly by the new addition to the hotel to face Centennial Square, which Madoff called a “glass curtain wall approach with some insertion of masonry.”

“I feel that contemporary architecture, anywhere in the city but particularly in Old Town, should be of a very high standard, and what one would hope is that those buildings would become the heritage of the future,” Madoff said.

Both Madoff and Gudgeon noted there were several letters in opposition to the project design.

Madoff said there are projects in the area, such as the Capital Regional District building, that have done a good job of incorporating new and old architecture.

But Coun. Lisa Helps voted in favour.

“I like the development because I think it’s a nod to the past and a nod to the future at the same time,” Helps said.

“The units range in size from 350 square feet to 950 square feet, so at the upper end there’s a potential for two kids and a parent to live there. We need more room for families downtown, and these aren’t tiny units.”

She also liked the proposal for public space — a seating area that could double as a play area — that essentially mirrors the public space in Centennial Square.

Coun. Chris Coleman noted that of the 12 members of the public who spoke to the proposal, the majority were in support.

While the historic Government Street façade is to be preserved and restored, about 25 to 30 per cent of the building will be demolished, Madoff noted.

GMC president Jordan Milne said the hope is to develop a condominium project that will have broad appeal.

“We’re kind of providing a good mix of units. There’s certainly going to be some units that are a little bit higher end, and those will be the ones with views on the fifth and sixth levels that look toward the Inner Harbour. Then we’re also looking at having some smaller one-bedroom and studios that will accommodate a younger demographic,” Milne said.

There is no firm plan in place for when construction might start. If all goes well, it could be mid-2014, he said.

“Now that the zoning and development permit is in place, it’s a matter of working through the next steps in order to get up to submission of the building permits,” he said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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