Illustration of the design for The Hive, a below market-rate micro-suite housing development proposed for 736 Princess St. The proposal, which would require a significant change to the City’s official community plan, was sent back to staff for more work after being discussed during committee of the whole on Thursday. Courtesy Large and Co./City of Victoria

Option for low-cost, workers housing in Victoria sent back to drawing board

Councillors not convinced Princess St. proposal is the right way to ease affordability crisis

A spirited discussion over a six-storey, micro-suite condo development proposal saw Victoria council send the application back to staff for further work in hopes that the proposal can be accommodated.

The proposed site at 736 Princess St., currently a parking lot, is in a Rock Bay neighbourhood designated as Core Employment within the Official Community Plan (OCP). That designation aims to help create job opportunities through light industrial and other business uses.

The proposal heard at Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, recommended by staff to be rejected by council, called for “limited commercial space being proposed on-site … likely to undermine the potential for this site to provide a higher degree of job opportunities,” according to a staff report.

The other side of the argument, put forward by Coun. Jeremy Loveday, urged council to consider the urgent need for affordable workplace housing in Victoria. He pointed to the 75 new residential units that formed part of the proposal; a number he said could substantially increase the overall supply of housing in the area.

That position was supported by councillors Margaret Lucas and Marianne Alto. However, councillors Pamela Madoff and Geoff Young were adamant that the OCP had to be respected and that “kicking out industrial users,” Young said, could set a dangerous precedent.

“We recognize that this is a really hard choice for council, but we need to recognize that Victoria is in a time of crisis. There are jobs out there right now, but people aren’t coming here to fill them because there isn’t an affordable place to live,” Kim Colpman, director of property development for proponent Large & Co., told the News in an interview later.

She called the proposal “truly revolutionary” for how it envisions fully contained units, a cafe, social meeting space and the provision of sustainable transportation. “It’s a game-changer.” she said.

The transportation component would make available for rent to tenants a shared fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles including cars, scooters and bikes.

The staff report also raised the issue of the proposed density of the residential component, which was listed as having a floor space ratio of 4.51:1. The OCP limits residential densities in the Core Employment zone to 3:1, as does the Downtown Local Area Plan with regard to mixed-use buildings.

Colpman explained that such density would allow the units to be sold for well below market value. “We’ve been working with CHMC and have determined that the units we propose will be affordable and be set at or below 30 per cent of median household incomes. This is what is so badly needed in this market,” she said.

At the meeting, such information failed to convince Young to move the project forward.

“This is not the way a council should plan. We have an OCP and it doesn’t make sense to discard it willy-nilly. If we are going to force a change in the OCP, it’s our job to do it in a way that makes sense,” he said.

Mayor Lisa Helps vacillated on the subject, first agreeing to the voices of opposition to the plan and later voicing support for sending the proposal back for more work.

Colpman said later that she’s not sure whether Large & Co. will continue to work toward this project. “We really don’t know what’s possible now. We’re going to debrief, pull back and take another look at it. There has been a lot of time, energy and money already spent on this project and we’ll have to see what happens now.”

editor@vicnews.com

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