Unique Victoria housing project emphasizes teamwork, community

Fernwood group has many hoops to jump through yet to obtain approval

Bill McKechnie

Bill McKechnie

A micro-neighbourhood within a neighbourhood – the first housing project of its kind in Victoria – is inching closer to receiving city approval.

The Fernwood Urban Village, identified as a ‘cohousing’ project, is the concept of four property owners on Grant Street who want to develop shared spaces with a focus on community engagement. They have been working with the city for nearly three years to create their vision.

“Our project will be like a little pocket neighbourhood,” said Bill McKechnie, one of the four and a Fernwood Community Association director. “I describe it as a group of like-minded owners who are pooling our money and building our houses in a way that surrounds the central courtyard.”

City staff recommended rejection of the project at Monday’s planning and land use committee meeting, saying it doesn’t conform to current municipal guidelines.

“One of the key reasons staff recommended against it … is they said it doesn’t have a very good relationship with the street,” said Coun. Lisa Helps.

But the city, she added, should be doing more to encourage alternative housing ideas.

“It’s the people’s relationship on that street that are making this happen in the first place. I think it’s unprecedented in the City of Victoria where four property owners have pooled their property to come up with something and build it together.”

To move forward, the project must pass through several stages of approval, including the creation of a master development agreement for the site, consultation with neighbours on Grant Street and further clarification on a proposed car-share program. Council would have the final say.

Cohousing differs from co-op housing in that property owners are still able to buy and sell individual units, rather than leasing them from a provincially legislated co-op organization.

The cohousing model emphasizes shared meals and fosters community activities, McKechnie said.

“The uniqueness of it is that we are trying to create a sustainable community by growing a lot of our own food.”

He said the plan also calls for a common dining room and kitchen – the suites would be self-contained, however, with a small kitchen in each. “In cohousing communities, you tend to eat together fairly often, and it’s part of bringing the community together.”

If approved, the site would also include green roofs, several food gardens and a bike/kayak storage area.

dpalmer@vicnews.com