Council, city staff outmanoevred by Fort Street developer

Decision to stop compromising shows planning process is broken in Victoria

City council dealt a tremendous blow to Rockland neighbors last week when it approved Abstract’s plans for 1201 Fort St.

The applicant manoeuvered council into approving a design that is too large for the space and out of place on the Fort Street heritage corridor. That manoeuvering reflects a broken planning process at City Hall which results in more riches for already rich developers while neighbors and other City taxpayers are left holding the bill.

Council allowed itself to be manipulated by the developer when it agreed to go to a public hearing. The problem with that, as Coun. Pam Madoff noted, is that it creates an all-or-nothing winner/loser situation. The neighbors were not NIMBYs, but wanted a gentler densification. There was still room to compromise.

But council killed that compromise by moving to a public hearing over the objections of almost all nearby neighbors and literally hundreds of signatories to an open letter and online petition. It was an amazing spectacle to watch council forestall compromise and negotiation over an important land-use choice.

Neighbors of 1201 Fort St. might have been willing to swallow this bitter pill for the greater good if the result was the kind of housing that would actually make a dent in the city’s housing problem.

But Abstract intends to build units that are out of the price range for most citizens in Victoria. The scenario illustrates the mismatch between the rents and prices many Victoria citizens can afford, and the expensive condos developers love to build because they can make much more money. We could compromise about the kind of condo housing approved by council – but that would reduce developer profit.

Under this council, developers are cashing in by building these expensive condominiums. The councillors who voted to approve the Abstract project – Mayor Lisa Helps, as well as Margaret Lucas, Marianne Alto, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Jeremy Loveday, and Chris Coleman – know this.

Yet such expensive condo developments keep getting approved. Why?

Chris Douglas

Victoria

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