Nvision properties has submitted a six-storey, 76-unit rental development application to replace the vacant lot, a former gas station site at McKenzie Avenue and Shelbourne Street (Nvision rendering).

Nvision properties has submitted a six-storey, 76-unit rental development application to replace the vacant lot, a former gas station site at McKenzie Avenue and Shelbourne Street (Nvision rendering).

Saanich forwards student-targeted development to public hearing

Proposed development advertises itself to individuals who want a car-free lifestyle

Mayor Fred Haynes said a proposed development at the corner of Shelbourne Street and McKenzie aimed directly at students potentially previews Saanich’s urban form.

“I’m enthusiastic for this project because it is a leap of faith into the future,” he said.

He made these comment after council meeting as committee-of-the-whole scheduled a public hearing for a six-storey, mixed-use building with two commercial retail units and 76 rental residential units on the upper floors.

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The unusual nature of the project lies in its proposed number of parking spots.

Developments of this size require 133 parking spaces, said Adam Cooper, director of development for Nvision Properties, in presenting the project, which would go up kitty-corner to the University Heights Shopping Centre, itself awaiting re-development under the guidelines of the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, an ambitious agenda to increase density and reduce vehicular traffic through the area.

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“In our case it is not possible or pragmatic to provide this level of parking on site in a way that is economically viable,” he said. “The only way we can construct this amount of parking would be to build an above-ground parkade [that] would require us to trade living space for parking space, and we don’t really think it is responsible to provide housing for vehicles, over housing for people.”

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The project will instead include 23 stalls — far short of the requirement. “It is suited for a low-car lifestyle,” said Cooper, pointing to the proximity of transit as well as the University of Victoria, some 20 minutes away by foot.

The project is aimed squarely at students, he said, adding that the project over-supplies bicycle storage by a three-to-one ratio, with a total of 234 bicycle lockers.

Other notable elements of the project include a transit shelter built into the building itself and access to a shared vehicle.

Environmental reasons account for the absence of underground parking, as the proposed development sits on the site of a former gas station.

“Due to the context of the site and the previous land use (gas station), underground parking is restricted, and any parking associated with future development must be above ground [or] surface parking,” reads a report from Watt Consulting Group.

Coun. Colin Plant acknowledged that the development with its limited parking represents a significant departure from previous practice, but added that the developer had done his homework. This development would test whether Saanich would be able to accept “radical changes” to parking requirements in a core area, he said in reference to the developer’s promise to examine the effects of the parking variance on the neighbourhood within 18 months of the building’s completion.

Coun. Judy Brownoff said the application merits a public hearing, but also needs to address various outstanding issues, including the project’s solar readiness.

Overall, the proposal received strong support from council and staff.

“It follows a lot of the housing trend that we are seeing,” said Coun. Zac de Vries.

“The applicant should be lauded for providing much-needed rental housing while also increasing the range of housing options in University Heights Major “Centre” and the District of Saanich,” reads a staff report.