New rental housing development coming to Victoria's Old Town

A $64-million building with 274 units of rental housing above ground-floor commercial space is planned on 1.5 acres at the north end of Victoria’s Old Town.

“I like mixed-use projects. I love an extension of the high street with residential on top,” said Garry Fawley, principal of Vancouver’s Denciti Development Corp., which is partnering with Nicola Wealth Real Estate.

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“The combination of the two — increasing the population along with vibrant retail — really helps create a community where the residents are using the small tenants down below as part of their common area.”

Rezoning is not needed for the 196,250-square-foot project on land bordered by Government, Herald and Chatham streets.

A development permit application was submitted to city hall on Sept. 25.

Construction is expected to start late next year and take 18 months, Fawley said Tuesday.

Nicola Wealth worked with Denciti to buy the lands this year and last. The development at 610-624 Herald St. and 611-635 Chatham St. is to replace parking lots and the Fountain Tire building.

Fountain Tire, at 610 Herald St. since 1996, will remain in its current location for now, manager Tim van Boven said. The lease runs for another year. The project means that Fountain Tire will be looking for a different location.

Once constructed, Nicola Wealth will own the five-storey building, Fawley said. Its construction cost alone is expected to be $64 million, he said.

Sections of the building are stepped back from the street to give the illusion of more than one structure.

A total of 20,000 square feet of new ground-level commercial space running along all sides is planned.

Individual commercial units will run about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, although if a business such as a restaurant wanted a larger space units could be joined, Fawley said. “The idea is to have a mix where you have a variety of food tenants and other convenient items that residents would appreciate.”

Fawley, who has been a developer for about 40 years, said the goal is to create a small community in itself.

Rental rates have not been set yet but will be at market levels, aimed at appealing to young professionals, tech workers, and government employees, he said. “Part of the strategy is focusing on people who are working downtown.

“We’ve really been careful with the unit sizes so that the price would be obtainable for people just starting out.”

Of the total units, 143 are studios, averaging 432 square feet, and there will be 87 one-bedroom units and 44 two-bedroom units. They will all be located in the top four storeys.

“Victoria has a high percentage of people who rent yet the market has a serious shortage of purpose-built rental housing,” Fawley said. “This project will add much-needed rental housing supply to the city.”

Amenities including a gym, media room, lounge, co-working area, and a central outdoor courtyard with a pet-friendly space.

Plans call for 185 underground parking stalls for residents and 23 stalls for the commercial tenants.

Underground secure storage for 338 bicycles for residents plus four more spaces for commercial tenants will be included as well. “It’s really the way to design these things these days in an urban area.”

Brick will be used on the exterior of the Government Street and Herald Street sides of the building. “It’s a commitment to Old Town and Chinatown,” he said. The design is contemporary but will show respect for the materials used in Victoria in the past.

On the Chatham Street side there is some use of exterior metal to reflect of the industrial history of the site. “The two streets (Herald and Chatham) are very distinctive.”

The project reflects interest in developing the north end of the city’s downtown where new multi-family housing is being built. Le Fevre and Co. built the Ironworks at 515 Chatham St., featuring 85 condominiums and commercial space. Vancouver’s Reliance Properties announced in spring that was buying 6.7 acres of land, including the Capital Iron store.

Despite the pandemic, Fawley is optimistic about the future of retail in developments such as this.

“I think retail of the future is going to be very experience-oriented. People are not going to stop going to the marketplace, they are not going to stop going to restaurants. They are going to look for an experience. They are going to look for something where they are comfortable.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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