Cook Street Village condo project heads back to public hearing

A proposed condo development in Cook Street Village that was rejected by Victoria council last year is again moving forward to a public hearing.

Aragon Properties plans to demolish the former Pic-A-Flic Video store, two houses and a duplex at Cook and Pendergast streets to build a four-storey condominium with businesses on the first floor and a range of one-, two- and three-bedroom suites.

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Council rejected the project last year in a 4-4 tie, following a public hearing and a discussion about the best way to solve the city’s housing crisis, with ­councillors Ben Isitt, Jeremy Loveday, Sarah Potts and ­Sharmarke Dubow opposed to the project.

On Dec. 10, council reconsidered the decision and directed staff to work with the developer to address housing affordability.

The proposal has not changed from what came before council previously, a staff report says, but the developer indicated they intend make a charitable donation to support homeless youth ahead of a public hearing.

The eight councillors who previously voted on the project before a Dec. 12 byelection to fill a ninth seat on council maintained their positions Thursday. A vote in support by Coun. Stephen Andrew, who was elected in the byelection, pushed the overall vote to 5-4 in favour of going to another public hearing.

Andrew said he wants to hear from residents how they feel about the project.

Isitt maintained he couldn’t support a project that will tear down affordable rental housing to build condos that will be out of reach for many in the city.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunity as a city to consider large apartment buildings and parcels that may be appropriate for some larger buildings. I think we should focus the efforts on providing affordable housing,” he said.

The redevelopment of affordable housing is creating challenges amid the city’s housing crisis, said Potts.

“Even with significant investment from government or with funds directed towards the Victoria housing reserve, these levels of affordability are generally not returned to the market and certainly not at a rate that would make up for what is being lost,” she said.

Mayor Lisa Helps acknowledged the development is not affordable rental housing, but argued the condo units may meet the needs of people who can’t afford a single-family home in the city.

In December 2018, councillors declined to send the project to a public hearing, instead directing staff to work with the developer and B.C. Housing to consider the possibility of designating up to 20 per cent of the units for affordable rental housing.

Aragon did approach B.C. Housing about including affordable rental housing, but ultimately rejected the idea because the project didn’t fit any current B.C. Housing programs and it would have required a complete redesign, city staff told council last May.

Instead, Aragon proposed a $136,000 contribution for community amenities and $160,000 to the city’s housing reserve fund, to help fund future affordable-housing projects.

— With files from Lindsay Kines

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