Giant housing project in Saanich faces public hearing amid support from politicians

A housing and social-programs development that would add hundreds of housing units to Saanich’s Nigel Valley neighbourhood takes a major step tonight, going to a public hearing amid broad support from politicians and the community association.

After the public hearing, Saanich council will decide whether to grant the required rezoning to allow the multi-year, $250-million project to go ahead.

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The hearing takes place in council chambers at 770 Vernon Avenue at 7 p.m.

The proposal runs along the north edge of Vernon Avenue bordered by Darwin and Nigel avenues.

“It certainly is a grand vision,” said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell. “It’s an extremely large build and it’s going to transform this area and be part of the Uptown-Douglas corridor as it refreshes itself over the next couple of decades.”

Nigel Valley has 186 housing units and the proposal is to increase that to 796, with a mixture of market, affordable and supportive housing complemented by a park, plaza, trees and plants, and improved roads.

Atwell said it’s advantageous that the project will come to council prior to the Oct. 20 election.

“For consistency it’s good that this is coming at this time,” said Atwell. “There certainly was a lot of public support for it at a committee-of-the-whole meeting earlier that sent this to a public hearing.”

The development would see the site divided into nine development areas by individual property owners or agencies to allow for phased redevelopment and development — care facilities, affordable housing and market housing.

Agencies that own some of the buildings agreed to move their property boundaries to accommodate the plan.

The Broadmead Care Society, Island Community Mental Health, Garth Homer Society, Greater Victoria Housing Society and B.C. Housing already offer housing in the area. These groups care for people with a range of needs, including seniors and those with developmental challenges.

“It’s an ambitious plan,” said Coun. Fred Haynes. “I’m optimistic that council will recommend this and it will receive the support it genuinely deserves.

“I’m delighted it’s come at the end of this first term, before we go into an election,” said Haynes, who is challenging Atwell for the mayor’s seat. “It’s exactly the sort of project I’ve sought to support since I was elected.”

B.C. Housing is leading the group of non-profit social organizations in the bid for a comprehensive development zone for Nigel Valley. The provincial agency plans to sell two lots — one for a building of up to 16 storeys and the other for five storeys.

The 16-storey building has drawn some community opposition.

It would be the tallest building in Saanich. But because of the location and a sloping grade it will appear more like a 12-storey building, said Haynes.

“Council has yet to hear the final arguments but I am personally optimistic we — as council, the community, and the applicants — will come to a new understanding for the significant benefits of this proposal.”

Mayoral candidate Rob Wickson said B.C. Housing invited him to the first meeting on the project at which time he said he recommended architect and project designer Frank d’Ambrosio.

“It turns out he was a perfect fit,” said Wickson. “I am very pleased to have participated at every step of the way for the past three years and think that this project will go a long way to influencing the Uptown/Douglas corridor project which I am also part of as a member of the advisory committee,” said Wickson.

Wickson said there is high community support for the development, that the community associations that took part should be applauded, and the land use is advantageous to all.

It should become “a template for future developments of this size,” said Wickson.

Traffic calming on Vernon Avenue is planned, along with new infrastructure and street frontages on Darwin, Nigel and Vernon avenues.

Construction projected to be completed in five to seven years.

In July, Saanich councillors voted unanimously to forward the plan for a public hearing.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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