This map from M’akola Development Services shows the site of the proposed partial re-development of Dawson Heights. It calls for a four-storey building. The society plans to submit a rezoning application by early March.

Proposed affordable housing complex in Saanich reaches for four storeys

Proposed building with 85 units would replace Dawson Heights’ Cottages

The head of a local non-profit housing society says its plans for the partial re-development of a rental housing complex conform with its surrounding neighbourhood and future plans for the Shelbourne Valley. But plans to redevelop Dawson Heights also raise the prospect of another protracted process comparable to the process that eventually led to the approval of Townley Lodge.

“What we are proposing is keeping with the surrounding area and Shelbourne Valley Action Plan,” said Karen Hope, executive director of Dawson Heights Housing Ltd. It plans to submit plans for the partial redevelopment of the Dawson Height housing complex in early March.

The society operates 130 rental suites across a trio of complexes called the Cedars, the Dawson and the Cottages. The proposed redevelopment would impact the Cottages, a complex consisting of eight buildings — two separate single-storey buildings and six single-storey cottages that appear a checkerboard from the air.

These single storey buildings with a combined 32 units would make room for a single four-storey buildings with 85 units shared across two wings.

Saanich would have to approve a rezoning request from RP-1 Residential Personal Care Zone to RA-3 Apartment.

While the current zoning permits buildings of approximately three storeys in height, four storeys would allow the society to maximize the number of affordable housing units in response to the current “crisis” in housing, said Kaela Schramm, director of M’akola Development Services.

“We took a look at the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, and this area has been dedicated for four storeys,” she said.

Hope echoed this point, noting the current complex lies near buildings four and five storeys in height. The Shelbourne Valley Action Plan also envisions future heights of up to six storeys at the corner of Cedar Hill Cross Road and Shelbourne Street, not far from the location of the proposed re-development near the corner of Cedar Hill Road and Church Avenue.

But the proposed height increase from one storey to four storeys when three storeys are available without rezoning raises an obvious question: how would the neighbourhood respond? Would it be similar to the response that greeted initial re-developments of Townley Lodge?

The proposed re-development of Dawson Heights parallels Townley Lodge in so far that both projects promise to increase the local supply of affordable housing by increasing height and density.

But the immediate neighbourhood surrounding Townley Lodge said plans for a four-storey building did not conform with the neighbourhood character, a reaction that eventually caused costly delays and revisions.

“We were aware of the challenges that Townley Lodge faced, but we’re in a different environment,” said Hope.

Pending zoning approval and financing, plans call for the project to wrap up within three years, Schramm.

“That [funding] is one of the pieces, we are working on,” she said.

Hope said cost estimates are changing quickly. While the society has some working estimates, she declined to share them.

As for the individuals, who are currently living in the existing buildings, Hope said the society has made arrangements with sister organizations to give these individuals priority for replacement housing. Others, who choose to find alternative housing on their own, will also receive financial assistance.

This said, it is still early days in the project, said Hope. The society, she said, plans to hold one additional public information session before its formal submission to Saanich, she said.

The society had met with the local community association on Jan. 8 and held a public information session on Jan. 25.

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