Victoria council sends Jubilee seniors-facility plan to public hearing

A proposal to replace a medical office building near Royal Jubilee Hospital with an assisted-living facility will go to public hearing, but some Victoria councillors want to see affordability built into the project.

Milliken Real Estate Corp. wants to build 137 units of assisted living, memory care and independent living over ground-floor commercial in a five-storey building to be known as Maison Victoria Seniors at 1900-1912 Richmond Rd.

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The care facility would replace an older four-storey medical building at the corner of Fort and Birch streets known for its Rod of Asclepius symbol — depicting a snake entwined on a rod — fixed on the exterior facing Fort. It’s an ancient symbol associated with medicine.

Milliken has agreed to keep the units as rental in perpetuity and city staff recommended the proposal be sent to public hearing.

Councillors agreed at a Thursday morning meeting to allow the proposal to go to the next step in the approval process, but almost reversed course on Thursday evening.

At the evening meeting, Coun. Ben Isitt wanted the project referred back to the applicant and city staff for discussions about including affordable rental units.

“I think the signal that would send is that if someone wants additional zoning in the community they need to bring forward projects that are inclusive rather than homogeneously expensive and that council is serious about that policy,” Isitt said.

If the applicant doesn’t believe that to be viable, “they can sell their land to someone who is prepared to sort of meet that vision of an inclusive community,” Isitt said.

Other councillors expressed worries about the potential loss of the medical lab and clinic in the existing building.

Mayor Lisa Helps urged the councillors to send the proposal to public hearing so council could hear from the developer about the plans and ask questions.

“I’m speechless,” she said. “This is purpose-built rental housing in perpetuity and we don’t know what modicum of affordability it will have. There’s none committed. We don’t know who is going to be living there. We don’t know what the care includes. We don’t know anything because we haven’t had an opportunity to hear from the applicant or the public,” Helps said.

“If we start turning away purpose-built rental care facilities in perpetuity, I think that that’s a very wrong signal to send, in my opinion. We have a responsibility to make sure that housing is built across the housing ecosystem,” Helps said, adding that some will be built for those of more means and others funded for people who can’t afford to pay.

Ultimately, councillors agreed to forward the project to public hearing on the condition that city staff work with the applicant to determine if units for lower-income people can be included in the project and to explore the possibility of finding a home either in the new facility or nearby for existing medical services.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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