The Township of Esquimalt has asked the developers behind a proposed 12-storey building to seek out more public input before the project is approved.
During council on Monday evening, council heard from representatives of Lexi Development, which proposed a 12-storey project at 899 Esquimalt Rd., hoping a height variance could be granted if they prioritize the first two-floors as a 24/7 urgent primary care clinic. The other floors would be condominium units on a different strata contract.
“There’s a critical shortage of appropriate critical space, and a shortage of physicians across Vancouver Island,” said Bob Heaslip, planning consultant with Lexi. “It’s important that there’s reliable access to primary care.”
Lexi Development originally purchased the property when local zoning allowed for 12 storeys, but changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) in June 2018 reduced the height limits to six storeys.
Now, in exchange for a variance, Lexi has committed to building the site, finding contracted staff, and acting as a landlord to a 3,600 sq. ft, two-storey urgent primary care centre. Also in their covenant is a promise to provide short-term clinic solutions, including possible mobile clinics, until the project is built.
As part of the proposed covenant, a development permit cannot be issued to Lexi Development until a 10-year lease with Island Health is established.
Lexi CEO Babak Nikbakhtan said they’ve already started working on hiring staff for the mobile sites, and would be able to have them within six months. He also added that they would be offering low rental rates to doctors to entice more of them to make the transition to Esquimalt.
The presentation moved to a public hearing, where residents spoke their minds about the proposal for over an hour.
While residents and councillors alike agreed on the urgency of health care needs, there was a consistent theme of dissent for a 12-storey building.
“I am concerned about 12 storeys on that site,” said Coun. Lynda Hundleby, noting the recent OCP change. “We just went through this process, and it was pretty gruelling. The traffic alone is a problem that I think needs to be worked out.”
Ultimately council voted to put the process on hold until Lexi conducted further consultation with the public.
Council also voted, however, to encourage Lexi to demolish the current building on site as soon as possible.
“I just hope that through this we can come to some compromise, but at least I want to ensure that we have the dialogue, I want to ensure this is done in a timely manner,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “I do hope that the developer continues to try to move forward on the health care concept.”
So far the development has passed two readings.
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