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Saanich sends affordable housing project to public hearing

Members of council and the community signaled their support for the revised version of an affordable housing complex that appeared on life-support, if not on its death-bed, less than a year ago.
This artistic rendering shows the revised proposal for the re-development of Townley Lodge. Submitted

Members of council and the community signaled their support for the revised version of an affordable housing complex that appeared on life-support, if not on its death-bed, less than a year ago.

Council on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing for the redevelopment of Townley Lodge, an affordable housing complex that the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) has run since 1967.

Its initial redevelopment proposal encountered resistance from residents in the area, leading to extensive negotiations between GVHS and community members over the final height and shape of the proposal.

Kaye Melliship, GVHS executive director, told council the revised proposal addresses all of the significant concerns. Marilyn Young, a spokesperson for the Camosun Community Association, praised the GVHS’ efforts to address neighbourhood concerns. “Our general sense is that neighbours have been listened to,” she said.

Eric Dahli, once a chair of the GVHS and current chair of the Cadboro Bay Residents Association, praised the process leading up to Tuesday. Hopefully, it will be a preview of future relations between developers and community members, he said.

Almost 11 months ago, council unanimously postponed a public hearing after GVHS had presented its initial redevelopment proposal. The society was planning to replace 39 low-income rental units for seniors with 67 affordable housing units for seniors, families and the disabled across four housing types, including a four-storey apartment building.

But stiff opposition from residents as well as the Camosun Community Association placed the project in limbo. Council’s decision drew criticism from an unusual coalition of business interests and social justice advocates. Several councillors countered this criticism by noting that council followed due process and that the proponent had failed to secure social licence from the neighbourhood.

Following the postponement, GVHS considered selling the property, then re-invest its proceeds into affordable housing projects elsewhere. However, the project received a renewed lease on life in the spring of 2017 following meetings between GVHS and neighbourhood leaders, and the revised proposal responds to the criticisms aired in late 2016.

The revised proposal reduces the height of the apartment building to three from storeys and reorients it by placing it parallel to Townley Street among other measures.

Sharon Hvozdanski, director of planning, said in a memo to council that the changes “strike a balance between addressing the community concerns, while still providing much-needed affordable housing for seniors, persons with disabilities and families. Similar to the initial proposal, the revised plans are consistent with the Official Community Plan policies and relevant design guidelines which were discussed in the planning report dated Oct. 6, 2016.”

Overall, the number of units drops to 64 from 67.

Hvozdanski said the revised proposal addresses the concerns raised, while “maintaining a viable affordable housing project.”

The project has generated considerable interest from a variety of community leaders and some have cited its meandering history as evidence of Saanich’s failing planning process. Others, however, pointed to it as an example of community leaders working with developers to address needs such as affordable housing, while retaining the character of a neighbourhood.

Council’s decision to send the proposal to a public hearing at a date yet to be determined was unanimous.

Mayor Richard Atwell praised the revised development as a remarkable improvement and hailed the collaboration between the developer and the community.

“This is going to be a good news story for everybody and a model for others to follow,” he said.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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