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Victoria council delays decision on 137-unit James Bay redevelopment

Deal preserving low rent for returning tenants still to be crafted

Victoria has pushed back the final decision on a proposal that could redevelop aging James Bay apartments and add a net increase of 92 rentals.

Following a public hearing on Thursday (March 24), council signalled it’ll likely greenlight the 137-unit rental development planned for the corner of Menzies and Niagara streets.

A final vote on the proposal was delayed so the city and developer Primex Investments could prepare a legal agreement giving some tenants the right to return at 20 per cent below market rent.

The move is in response to concerns about tenants of the existing apartments, highlighted at previous meetings and the public hearing, during which a resident of one of the Niagara Street homes slated for redevelopment said his family would become homeless if they have to move.

Greg Mitchell, a Primex senior planner and development manager, said a relocation specialist has worked with the 45 tenants to help them find housing options, with 34 having moved out as of March 21. Primex has also paid just over $110,000 to 23 tenants who are eligible for the city’s assistance program and is working with 10 others to ink compensation agreements for about $7,000 each.

The plan envisions a net increase of 58 trees at the site. However, the public had concerns about the planned removal of six purple leaf plum trees, along Menzies Street, for construction of the underground parkade, plus widening the sidewalk and separating it from the road.

Four of the trees have a fungus that shows they’re decaying from the inside, parks staff said, and all are nearing the end of their natural life. Staff noted they try to replace flowering trees with the same species where appropriate. Other speakers at the hearing said not building in Victoria could lead to forests being clearcut for housing outside the city.

READ: 6-storey redevelopment in Victoria would add 92 net new rentals to apartment site

Some members of the public asked why the existing apartments couldn’t have been renovated. Mitchell said the life of the current buildings is limited and properly fixing them would mean tenants having to leave for an “extended period of time.” Of the 137 units, the market-rental proposal includes 89 one-bedrooms, 33 two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedrooms. The developer pitched the proposal as taking advantage of the strategic location, with recreation spots all around and a commercial hub on the same block. The design aims to match the neighbourhood character and keeping the building to four storeys along Menzies and Niagara streets was said to address height concerns.

The plan also calls for 95 vehicle stalls, 10 visitor spaces and 250 bike spots.

Still, some people were against the development’s parking impacts, density and the building not fitting the neighbourhood fabric. Other speakers were excited about new rentals in a central area, with several sharing stories of being young workers at risk of having to leave the city to find housing.

Multiple councillors said the proposal wasn’t a “slam dunk” for them, but they also had to consider how it would add needed rentals, benefit nearby businesses and improve the streetscape at the developer’s expense rather than taxpayers.

“What is the alternative? To let these (existing) units sit there that are past their lifespan and then just deteriorate,” Coun. Stephen Andrew said.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the comments made echo ones they hear with every development, with some expressing loss about their changing neighbourhood and others saying they’ve been living in insecure housing situations.

“It’s essentially the same story that council needs to balance about a changing and quickly growing city.”

READ: Hotel, 102-unit residential tower pitched for Victoria’s former Power Commission site Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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