The 25,000 motorists streaming north on Vernon Avenue every day would be hard-pressed to notice the largely hidden neighbourhood just southeast of Saanich Municipal Hall.
But the Nigel Valley Project — named for a street barely a block long — is earmarked for centre stage in the revitalization of Saanich’s up and coming urban core.
It will take a decade or more to complete, but the vision for the nine-acre site is unlike just about anything B.C. has seen before: An accessible people place with plenty of greenspace and a downtown vibe in what is now a huge traffic corridor separating public housing and health facilities from commercial plazas and Uptown Centre.
“To the best of our knowledge, there is no project in B.C. or Canada, with a comparable level of diversity in housing tenure, or co-ordination of like-minded non-profit operators,” according to B.C. Housing. Included are plans to redevelop and expand aging services operated by the Garth Homer Society, Broadmead Care for adults with disabilities, family nonprofit housing run by the Greater Victoria Housing Society, and the Darwin and Newbridge Apartments operated by Island Community Mental Health, among others.
These will be integrated with three buildings providing market rental housing, commercial ventures, greenspace, a daycare, eateries and other urban amenities to make the Nigel Valley a go-to destination, urban enough to incorporate a 12- to 16-storey rental highrise at Vernon and the Lochside Regional Trail. The cost will be many millions over at least 10 years, with no budget in place, according to B.C. Housing.
The housing society estimates its plan to more than triple the units at Nigel Place will cost $19 million to $20 million and it’s just one of 12 landholders.
“It’s a wonderful project,” said David Cheperdak, chief executive officer of Broadmead Care, where 26 people with developmental disabilities and other chronic medical or behavioural conditions are housed in the 1970s-era Nigel House. The new facility — which will be the first out of the gate for the project — will house 41 residents age 19 to 55.
Cheperdak is keen on the overarching impetus: “An incredible, inclusive community that’s beautifully integrated with the community around it. … The whole Vernon corridor is going to change incredibly.”
Broadmead Care, which is part of Island Health, will try to fundraise $2.5 million of that in two or three years, given its new residence is expected to be open in less than three years.
Community inclusiveness and livability are major aims, said Mitchell Temkin, CEO of the Garth Homer Society, which plans to replace its 35,000-square-foot centre dating to 1977 with a 12,500-square-foot facility for upward of 200 clients and 60 or 70 new residential rental units.
Temkin envisions a dense and inclusive urban village with an extensive mix of people and several buildings rented at market rates. It will be near bus routes and the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, and will offer apartments, gallery space, community health space, coffee shop and other amenities.
“The idea is that it feels like a downtown block, a mix of this that and everything,” Temkin said.
Density — more units on less land — is a major goal in to order to provide space for new streetscapes and park space to boost the attractiveness of the area, said Kaye Melliship, executive director of the housing society. The society’s 18 units of family housing at Nigel Place now occupy .82 of an acre, with a footprint that’s about 11 per cent of the total site. The new site is smaller — .69 of an acre — and will have a five-storey building with 67 units from studios to four bedrooms, she said.
“We need to use our land really efficiently to get as many affordable units as possible,” Melliship said. Seniors, working people and singles need consideration along with families. “It’s going to be a huge urban redesign, more welcoming and with better access for more people.
The Mount View Colquitz Community Association calls the project “an important addition to our community,” but is concerned there might be too much density, said president Carol Hamill.
“The total number of proposed units is 651, of which 190 will be rented at market rates in three buildings, of five, six and 16 storeys,” she said. “We request that a maximum unit count be determined for each subdivision site.” The development site includes 12 properties owned and operated by non-profit organizations or government agencies that provide housing, residential care and day programming.
New Greater Victoria Housing Society units would not open until 2020, Melliship said. Current tenants, whom she acknowledged might be “quietly anxious,” will have the choice of moving to new units on Nigel or at Townley Manor near Hillside, where new housing-society units are also planned, she said.
Garth Homer wants to build a range of residential housing, not all of it for people with developmental disabilities, as well as provide office space for staff that is “tripled up” in some places, Temkin said. Along with a new day-services centre, there would be a cafe, relocation of an art studio to face out to the street, a meeting hall and a large atrium space for use as an auditorium.
“And on the ground floor some sort of space for community health services; we’re not sure, it’s early days.” There isn’t a budget as yet. The new quarters will be paid for through fundraising, mortgages, other elements and B.C. Housing, he said.
The Nigel Valley is a “great place” for a coherent project, something at the heart of increased vitality for Saanich’s downtown area, he said, noting it’s across from Saanich Plaza and Gateway Plaza, offering shopping, employment opportunities, the Galloping Goose Trail and Swan Lake.
“What we’re doing is interesting, but what’s most interesting is the neighbourhood redevelopment,” Temkin said. “The big idea here is an inclusive, accessible neighbourhood that will really make a difference in people’s lives. We want to create a diverse mix of uses of the buildings and diverse groups of people using them.”
“It will be at least three years before we are able to build,” Temkin estimated, with all landholders having to move in and out in sequence rather than all at once.
The disruption in the area will help create a civic core for Saanich, but the 10-year timeline is optimistic, said John Schmuck, past president of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, which borders on Darwin Avenue, the northern border for Nigel Valley.
“It would be desirable to complete in this time frame. No one likes long-term disruption.”
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Housing projects await zoning from Saanich
B.C. Housing has approved up to $860,000 to create the master plan for the nine-acre Nigel Valley project area and obtain all necessary planning and rezoning approvals. To date, $515,000 has been spent on design and approval costs. But nothing gets off the ground unless Saanich rezones the site for a specific comprehensive development zone with a development permit for a master development plan.
A rezoning application was submitted in October 2016, and the project is under review by the district, with an expectation of the proposal coming before Saanich council’s committee of the whole this fall.
“Many of the Nigel Valley buildings were built in the mid-1970s and require significant investment and repair,” B.C. Housing states on its website. “Many also don’t maximize their sites’ housing and care potential, and no longer meet current housing and care demands.”
Rob Wickson, who is president of the neighbouring Gorge Tillicum Community Association, supports the proposal.
“The Nigel Valley Project should be an example for future developments. If the Uptown shopping centre had been developed with this kind of leadership, we would have been much farther ahead in Saanich,” he said. For one thing, it’s being planned for people, not for cars, he said.
“Uptown wasn’t an inclusive neighbourhood,” Wickson said. “They built a fortress. It doesn’t feel welcoming to pedestrians in any way and it’s all retail. There should be twice as much housing. They built a shopping mall for cars. This [Nigel Valley] will help, as long as you get the pedestrian connection right.”
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Height of buildings is a concern
Carol Hamill, president of the Mountview Colquitz Community Association, says its members support social housing and view the Nigel Valley project as “an important addition to our community. But she is especially worried that what was initially described as a 12-storey building could go as high as 16 storeys.
“We have concerns that instead of properly funding the project, B.C. Housing plans to build a 16-storey market highrise,” she said in an email. “That’s four storeys higher than the tallest building in the original plan.
“Generally speaking, our members have spoken against highrise construction,” she said, saying highrises are expensive to build when there is a greater need for family-oriented housing, and mid-rise construction up to eight storeys with an emphasis on affordable housing.
If a building design is brought forward that merits more than 12 storeys, Saanich can give a variance at the time of the building-permit application for that area, she said. After the initial rezoning, Saanich could allow an increase in the height, if the building is “worthy,” but cannot decrease the height, once it has been allowed in the zoning, she said .
Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, said some market-rate housing would help offset some of the project costs.
“This is what you do regarding affordable housing — you build market housing alongside of it, to help it become sustainable.” Market-rate contributions can add to the viability and upgrade amenities such as the connection to the Galloping Goose, which he calls “basically a goat trail.”
John Schmuck, past-president of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, has no issue with a 16-storey tower — which would make it the highest building in the municipality — saying “densification will provide other amenities such as a park and public square.
Private ownership sales will provide funding for the social housing component.”
Complicating planning is that the huge Nigel undertaking must be done in conjunction with the Saanich Uptown-Douglas Corridor project, Schmuck said. — Katherine Dedynaa