It didn’t take long for Abstract Developments to begin marketing their newest residential project in Victoria.
Mesh signage advertising upcoming sales opportunities for the estimated $100-million Bellewood Park project at 1201 Fort St. and 1050 Pentrelew Pl., for which the company received rezoning approval from city council in a 6-3 vote Thursday night, went up on the site Friday morning and around Abstract’s Black and White project under construction at Cook and Fort streets.
One of the more controversial developments to come before Victoria council in some years, the project on the former Victoria Truth Centre property underwent multiple changes from the original design and needed two nights of public hearing before council made their decision.
“This was sort of night three of the public hearing, and I’ll be honest we’re kind of exhausted; mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted,” said Abstract founder/CEO Mike Miller on Friday. He noted the entire process to this point has taken more than two years and has taken a lot out of everyone involved, from neighbours and city staff to his company and council themselves.
In the end, council approved an 83-unit development featuring a six-storey and a four-storey building at 1201 Fort St., and nine townhomes fronting onto Pentrelew. An agreement was also approved that calls for 10 below-market affordable rental units – five for “low-income” and five for “moderate-income” tenants – to be built at 1010 Fort St. The narrow lot is currently home to the sales office for Black and White.
The project will be Abstract’s largest in terms of total gross square footage and sales value – their multi-use development at Boleskine Road and Whittier Avenue in Saanich has more units at 95 – but Miller noted Bellewood Park will be the company’s “least dense” multi-unit residential project to date. Its 1.28-to-1 overall floor space ratio for the site is nearly a third that of Black and White, he said.
“I think the way the proposal has been reworked with input from the neighbourhood is better than it was when it came to us,” Mayor Lisa Helps said during pre-vote discussions at the special council meeting.
She reflected on the range of people who spoke at the public hearing and was impressed by the high level of thoughtful discussion brought forward by people who have looked at the importance of this site to the planning of the city.
At one point Helps noted how “Generation Squeeze,” the younger residents who feel they’re being priced out of the local housing market, came out to voice support for the project as a way to open up other opportunities.
Other councillors talked about grappling with the decision to support some neighbours’ calls for an even less intensive use of the property, but ultimately coming to a place where the multiple revisions made the project and the rezoning supportable.
Coun. Pam Madoff, who voted against the proposal as did councillors Geoff Young and Ben Isitt, pointed out that in blending two distinctly separate types of housing zones that the transition to the residential neighbourhood to the south was not as gradual as it could be, especially in terms of building B, which she said underwent little change other than being reduced to four floors from five.
She voiced doubts that the project would do anything to help ease the housing affordability crisis currently overwhelming the city and region. Madoff added her discomfort with linking the promise to build affordable units to an as-yet unseen project at 1010 Fort St.
Isitt’s rejection came mostly, he said, from the lack of affordable units on the site itself.
For his part, Miller sounded optimistic about the potential for this project.
“What we’re excited about the most is the opportunity to create something that’s going to last, I can almost guarantee, beyond my lifetime,” he said. “I have no reservations in saying that this will be not only the most beautiful residential project that Abstract has ever done, but one of the nicest in Greater Victoria.”