Fan Tan Alley alteration approved

Heritage building saved from destruction, but some wonder at what cost

The strange vending machine that greets passersby through the barred-window of a first-floor room on Pandora Avenue will soon be a thing of the past.

So too the substandard rental units and derelict storage space contained in the heritage building that houses the pop machine.

An overhaul of the building rounding the corner into Fan Tan Alley got the green light at Victoria city council Thursday night.

While the renovations will save the building from destruction, by slow decay or disaster, many neighbours to the project are devastated by the news of the impending upgrades.

“I’m pretty disillusioned,” said Allan Edgar, who lives on a third floor unit in Fan Tan Alley. His petition, set up in the Alley, garnered 3,300 names, of which 50 to 65 per cent were signed by people in Greater Victoria. “I thought that would be enough.”

Coun. Lynn Hunter called it an uncomfortable compromise.

“We really struggled with this one,” said she said.

Council granted a heritage alteration permit for a two-storey addition to the building fronting the alley, though set back enough to be less visible. The added density, architect Alan Lowe argues, is needed to fund the substantial upgrades to the deteriorating property belonging to the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association at 536 Pandora Avenue, and 4, 10-14 Fan Tan Alley.

Neighbours, however, opposed the added density, arguing it will shade the little light that enters the alleyway, and compromise a national heritage site.

“In many countries, they would not think of adding storeys to buildings (more than 100 years old),” Edgar said.

Both Edgar and Hunter question whether the development could have proceeded without the added storeys.

Council was not able to obtain any independent analysis of the finances that prove the need, Hunter said. “We’re not allowed to ask those questions.”

Despite these concerns, council approved the project six to one, (Coun. Pam Madoff voted against), deferring to the expert opinion of staff and the heritage advisory committee.

“This is a compromise and everything in the city is a compromise,” said Ken Johnson, on the committee and the president of the Hallmark Society. “Some people in the city would like to freeze downtown but you can’t do that … The difficulty is if nothing is done, those buildings are subject to burning down or falling down in an earthquake,” he said. “This project will resolve those issues.”

The skeletal remains of another heritage building in Chinatown is testament to this worst-case scenario.

Fire consumed the building on the old Buckerfield site, while a development application made its way through the approval process.

While businesses in Fan Tan Alley worry long alleyway closures will affect their business, Lowe says otherwise.

“We will be placing scaffolding in the alley so it can be kept open,” he wrote in an email to the News. “We hope to keep the alley open during most of the work.”

Construction is set to begin in the spring.