An ambitious plan to redevelop the urban core of Saanich will get a public hearing in September, but councillors also heard public concerns about the ‘signature’ building of the Nigel Valley development.
A packed council gallery applauded as council meeting as committee-of-the-whole voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing for the proposal that would serve as a central hub for local non-profits.
It would increase the number of residential units in the Nigel Valley area of Saanich near Municipal Hall to a maximum of 796 units — up from 186 — as part of a project that would involve 12 separate properties, five property owners (including Saanich) and five agencies that deliver affordable and supportive housing.
These agencies include the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation, the Broadmead Care Society, Garth Homer Foundation, and the Capital Mental Health Association with B.C. Housing serving as the coordinating agency and applicant.
It would also include a 16-storey market housing development at the corner of Ravine Way and Vernon Avenue (Blanshard Street). While plans identify as the development’s ‘signature’ building, several speakers including Carol Hamil of the Mount View Colquitz Community Association called on Saanich to provide more information, a point echoed by several councillors.
“How large would that building look?” asked Coun. Colin Plant. “We are talking about the biggest building in Saanich,” he said.
He also cautioned against high expectations in noting that proposed developments at Uptown continue to remain at hold in light of market conditions.
In her official remarks, Hamil asked Saanich to lower the proposed height of the building to 12 from 16 storeys, while leaving open the possibility of extracting a density bonus from the developer that would eventually purchase the land from B.C. Housing.
“Any proposal worthy of a density bonus should be considered, this building must be worthy of its prominence,” she said.
Lauren English, a spokesperson for B.C. Housing, the coordinating agency for the project, said her office is already working on the premise of density bonusing.
Hamil, who drew praise for her thoroughness, also raised concerns about the project’s impact on parking and Saanich’s ability to influence the project. “What if a redevelopment does not happen within a reasonable amount of time or a major unforeseen change occurs?” she asked. “What if the market buildings do not get built?”
Others also pointed to traffic questions, as well as the need for additional social amenities to serve the area, with several speakers wondering where future children would attend school.
Yet these critiques could not dampen the positive mood that prevailed during Monday’s hearing, whose audience included a mix of professionals representing participating agencies, other community leaders, as well as current residents of Nigel Valley, several of whom spoke in favour of the development in urging council to approve it.
Hamil, for all her critiques, praised the development’s general direction and the extensive community consultations that had preceded Monday’s presentation.
“This is what we need,” said Rob Wickson, past president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association. “This is what get us in the 21st century.”
Councillors, for their part, acknowledged the complexity of the project — Coun. Susan Brice called it a “rubik’s cube” — but also pointed to its larger significance.
“There is so much goodness tonight, it’s not hard to share the enthusiasm tonight,” said Plant.