Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said approving the St. Andrew’s School site development last week was one of the most difficult decisions she’s made in her four years on council.
“It was quite literally painful for me as mayor to see the community that divided,” said Helps. “This is a 21st century development in a 21st century city. We will see people walk to the stores, we will see people bike to the stores.”
Last week, Victoria city council approved the controversial development in the North Park neighbourhood with a vote of 6-3.
The development, bordered by Pandora Avenue, Mason and Vancouver streets, was put forward by a division of Bosa Properties in 2013. It has undergone changes since then after immense public backlash to the height of the building, concern with traffic volumes, the tower overshadowing the Mason Street Farm and lack of green space.
It now includes 209 rental units amongst two buildings — one six storeys and the other four. There would also be a large ground-floor commercial space that could include an urban grocer, bank, smaller retail stores, as well as 11 affordable rental units.
Helps voted in favour of the development because of the balance of amenities it added to the community. She noted the development is on par with the North Park Neighbourhood Association’s community plan drafted for the area in 1996.
“What we’re seeing now come forward 20 years later after an official community plan process, where that didn’t get changed. We’re seeing something that has much less height and density that could be there come in,” Helps said.
But many residents will oppose the development. A petition against it garnered 1,200 signatures and more than 100 residents attended the two public hearings — the first in August and the second last week.
Councillors Jeremy Loveday, Ben Isitt and Pam Madoff voted against it.
“There was immense community opposition, to me that spoke to a development that wasn’t fitting well with the values or the neighbourhood,” said Loveday, adding there was not enough dialogue with the public.
“It’s still mostly a field, there’s still room for the developer to partner with the neighbourhood and get them on side in a lot of ways.”