A Saanich councillor predicts that a new development at the corner of Shelbourne Street and McKenzie Avenue will force fewer students to live in illegal housing situations.
“I do think this is an exceptional project,” said Coun. Ned Taylor. “As we all know, we have a desperate need for more housing. We desperately need more rental housing. We also desperately need more student housing.”
He made those comments after council earlier this month all but signed off on plans for a six-storey, mixed use building with 76 rental units on top of two commercial retail units in the 3900-block of Shelbourne Street. The area is popular with students attending the University of Victoria (UVic), but has also seen conflicts between permanent residents and students over the legality and practicalities of student housing.
The location ranks among the most visible in Saanich, if not the region. Neighbouring properties includes Tuscany Village and University Heights. The location is also near a major transit hub that connects westbound transit users along McKenzie Avenue to Uptown and Downtown Victoria, and eastbound transit users to the University of Victoria. Several bus lines running north and south along Shelbourne Street also serve the area, which is also a junction for north-south and east-west cycling paths.
It is against the backdrop that council granted Abstract Developments a significant variance in parking. While a development of this size would normally require a total of 161 for resident and visitor parking, council accepted 23 spaces. A public hearing held June 18 heard concerns about this “significant” variance as Saanich staff called it.
Taylor said he could understood why residents are concerned about parking, but pointed to the availability of transit and cycling routes in the area. The development will also include two charging stations for electric vehicles and a ride-share membership. Coun. Karen Harper said she had no virtually no concerns about the parking in calling the location “ideal” for this type of project. “My reaction is,’if not here, where?’” she asked.
Mayor Fred Haynes echoed these point in calling the location a “high mobility residential project” that represents the cutting edge of urban planning.
“This is like a testing ground for how we go forward with housing without cars,” said Haynes, who also praised the developer for producing a follow up study into the effects of the parking variance.
This study is part and parcel of a larger covenant that also prohibits the developer from turning the units into short-term rentals. It also commits the developer to maintain the units as rental units in perpetuity. “I’m open to this as a project, because it does supply us some rental units in perpetuity,” said Coun. Colin Plant.
The project still requires final approval following three readings of bylaw changes, and withholding of a development permit to secure the covenant.