Residents concerned about scope of Harris Green project

Toronto developer Starlight’s plan to reimagine downtown Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood is getting pushback from residents who say the massive project wants too much density and will once again challenge the existing official community plan.

Ian Sutherland, chair of the community association land use committee and director of the Downtown Victoria Residents Association, said as the project continues through the city’s online community feedback process, the committee is hearing concerns about its scope and the exhaustion of downtown residents.

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“It’s pretty aggressive,” said Sutherland of one of the largest projects the downtown has seen in years. “The proposal doesn’t comply with the official community plan for density or height.”

Starlight has proposed a complete transformation of the Harris Green neighbourhood along the 1000 and 900 blocks of Yates and View streets between Cook and Quadra streets.

The intention is to tear down all of the existing commercial buildings to make way for a project that will include residential towers with 1,500 rental suites, more than 100,000 square feet of commercial buildings and green space.

The company controls 4.9 acres over two sites. It owns all of the 900-block, which is bordered by Yates, View, Quadra and Vancouver streets. It also owns the land under the Harris Victoria car dealership that is bordered by Cook, Yates and View.

The first phase of the project, at 1045 Yates St., which houses the dealership, there are plans for a mixed-use project including purpose-built rental residential towers of 21 and 20 storeys.

The 900 block of Yates would include three towers ranging in height between 28 and 32 storeys.

Sutherland said while the current city council seems open to amending the official community plan the resident’s association is opposed.

“When you allow high density, it increases the price of land for the next person,” said Sutherland, a developer, who said it now means the next developer will expect similar treatment. “You then see prices move up at the expense of livability.

“Everyone says we need extra density to make it affordable, but there’s certainly no proof that these developments become affordable,” he said, noting renters will expect to pay a premium to live in brand new suites.”

Sutherland also said people are exhausted.

“There is a lot of development fatigue going on downtown,” he said. After enduring rock drills every day for the last two years as foundations for neighbouring projects are dug, people now face the prospect of another few years of dust and noise. “Some people have been leaving.”

Mark Chemij, director of development at Starlight, said he sympathizes and can understand the exhaustion.

“That neighbourhood has been the focus of a lot of development and the community is rapidly evolving,” he said.

At the same time, he chalks down some of the pushback from residents as dislike of change.

“I understand that sometimes change can be difficult when it’s happening in your neighbourhood or community, but what we are providing is a significant number of rental housing units, needed in Victoria, and a significant amount of retail and commercial space,” he said, adding they are also proposing substantial, open public space in the area.

The company does not plan to have another public meeting before the rezoning proposal goes to council.

Residents and others have an opportunity until June 25 to weigh in on the project through the city’s development tracker application, which can be found at victoria.ca/devtracker.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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