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Waterfront heritage buildings, apartments to become centrepiece of Victoria greenspaces

Northern Junk proposal approved in a narrow 5-4 vote, no ‘unicorn proposal’ available
Rendering of the modern treatment involving the existing Northern Junk warehouses on Wharf Street. Council narrowly approved the Reliance Properties proposal for the site on Thursday (Aug. 5). (Courtesy of Reliance Properties)

The future of one of the last undeveloped sites in a downtown Victoria active transportation hub was sealed Thursday night, as city council voted 5-4 to approve the Northern Junk building proposal.

After a lengthy public hearing July 29 on Reliance Properties’ proposal to build a 47-unit rental apartment complex on top of the two existing heritage warehouses on Wharf Street, council debated the pros and cons of the project. Everything from the project’s value in providing sustainable rental accommodation downtown to concerns over its potential negative effect on heritage preservation in Victoria’s Old Town neighbourhood were discussed.

Mayor Lisa Helps cast the tiebreaking vote to move the project forward – Couns. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Ben Isitt, Sharmarke Dubow and Geoff Young voted against. She said Friday, the project offers a good blend of heritage elements and modern amenities.

“It does not hit all of the marks if you are a heritage purist and if you look at the heritage guidelines,” she said. “I do think the building will have heritage merit and tell a part of the story of the city’s history.”

The project does not include vehicle parking but plans for 61 bike parking stalls, and electric infrastructure for e-bikes.

“We learned yesterday that on some days the Wharf Street bike lanes are busier than the Galloping Goose (trail),” Helps said.

She said approval will prompt the city to get working on creating a public park on municipal land between the Northern Junk property and the bridge, currently home to a parking lot.

“If the city can pull that off, that really will knit together both sides of the bridge – the Janion and the bridge are terrific –the continuous walkway would be able to connect up with the new park.”

RELATED STORY: Public commentary on Northern Junk proposal pushes Victoria vote to next week

Reliance CEO Jon Stovell is relieved the project is moving forward.

“Forty-three years in the making, and I feel like that’s how long I’ve been working on it,” he said, referencing the length of time the buildings have sat vacant. Reliance has owned the waterfront property for 11 years.

As he looked forward to next steps – a building permit is needed – Stovell had stern words for arguments against this latest of many proposals for the site.

“They really were being pennywise and pound foolish in their pedantic defence of (the city’s heritage) guidelines, ultimately to the detriment of what they’re trying to protect,” he said.

RELATED STORY: Developer brings eighth proposal for Northern Junk buildings to Victoria council

Stovell rejected the notion that approving this project, with its blend of heritage and modern architecture, will have devastating effects on heritage preservation in the city.

“Young adults don’t hold these colonial buildings in the same view, not everybody looks at these old buildings in the same way. … Advocates are arguing for some perfect outcome,” he said, pointing to city staff’s determination that “no unicorn proposal” has been developed in almost 20 years of trying.

Site preparation will begin after permits are approved. Stovell estimates completion sometime in 2024.


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