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Esquimalt rezoning creates densest neighbourhood by 75%, despite widespread concern

Esquimalt East Community Association express environmental, flooding worries

Area residents continue to be concerned over the future of wooded lot behind a youth baseball diamond – a property recently approved for rezoning by Esquimalt council.

The approval, which followed a March 7 public hearing, will allow for construction of a planned five-storey, 42-unit rental apartment building, with three two-storey stratified penthouse condos at 880 Fleming St., currently an unserviced lot with no road access from the cul-de-sac. Its units will be split into thirds of 14 units priced at market rate, just below market rate and provincially subsidized levels.

The fledgling Esquimalt East Community Association, whose members are spread between 40 households on Fleming and Lampson streets and Craigflower and Colville roads, remain concerned about the land use, including environmental and flooding implications.

The association formed last September as the 880 Fleming St. proposal was making its way through the process and gained wider support when the lot’s wildlife and underground river became key concerns. Its 77 trees, some of which are over 100 years old, hold at least two owls’ nests and are frequented by five eagles, according to the group’s founding member James Nadeau.

Those trees sit atop the underground Chan Creek, a water catchment that proved vital to mitigate flooding in the low-lying Esquimalt area during last year’s heavy rain, he added.

Residents were also concerned about the status of a historical Fleming-to-Lampson right-of-way, established in 1949, before the township built the baseball parks.

“A lot of us didn’t know this was a developable lot,” Nadeau said. “It seemed like a headscratcher for us … (that) if you live in a cul de sac, they could attach a road to it.”

Preliminary work has begun next door at 874 Fleming St., where the former Lions Lodge, a four-storey, 77-unit building, will be replaced by a six-storey 137-unit affordable rental building operated by the Greater Victoria Housing Society.

Unlike that previously approved redevelopment, the rezoning for 880 Fleming St. went forward without a formal pre-application consultation, Nadeau said.

Given their similarities and juxtaposition, Nadeau said, the rezoning proposals for the two properties should have been presented to the public at the same time.

“Pre-application consultation (for 880 Fleming St.) could have gone a long way to smooth things out,” Nadeau said. “The (community planning) department created an unnecessary problem for city council. It stressed out the entire neighbourhood.”

Mayor Barbara Desjardins said pairing the two projects would have been impossible since they have different owners, but noted it did create an “unusual circumstance” of staggering rezoning notices.

One of the last pieces of undeveloped and unserviced municipal property not designated as a park, discussions around the sale of the lot began in 2016 and in October 2020, it was the subject of sale to Victoria’s Method Built Homes, with the condition that the land would need to be rezoned.

Area residents became aware of the development proposal last September when a rezoning notice went up in front of the lot’s trees.

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According to Mayor Barb Desjardins, the property was Esquimalt’s sole lot available for a higher density project. Municipal lands are built out, and most new multi-unit developments require zoning amendments, she said.

An aerial photo of the lot at 880 Fleming Street, which was approved for the township for development rezoning on March 7. (Township of Esquimalt)
An aerial photo of the lot at 880 Fleming Street, which was approved for the township for development rezoning on March 7. (Township of Esquimalt)

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The development is the product of “all the wrong things for the right reasons,” Nadeau said, conceding a need for additional housing in Esquimalt.

“In Esquimalt, because there is no free and open land, everything is a redevelopment,” Desjardins said.

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