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  • Going overboard with development at the Inner Harbour entrance in Victoria


    Residents of Vic West and adjacent neighbourhoods come together to urge caution in revised rezoning application for Bayview site.


    THE MOVEMENT HAS BEEN BUILDING—with 700-plus signatories on a petition launched just a few weeks ago. A group of concerned petitioners—“People For Sensible Rezoning”—are taking their case to the public and pressing the newly elected City Council of Victoria to revisit the revised rezoning of Vic West’s Bayview Place proposed by Ken Mariash of Focus Equities. The revised rezoning application, submitted on January 16, 2020, goes from 5 towers, approved initially in 2008, to 9 towers. No small development, cost estimates for it run as high as $2 billion. The proposed 9 towers would soar up to 29 stories above the Songhees shore-line cluster of 80s-designed buildings, dominating the picturesque Inner Harbour entrance for decades. But it is more than aesthetics that are at stake. 

    The land and the heritage buildings on site were purchased for purposes of development around 2005 by companies controlled by Ken Mariash. It was rezoned by City Council in 2008 to exceed the height and density limits then in place in return for Mr Mariash restoring the historic Roundhouse and five other heritage buildings onsite. But rather than that happening Mr Mariash returned to the City Council in 2020 to ask to further exceed the height and density limits. This request is now before the City Council which is consulting residents within a 200-metre radius of the site about whether there is support in this vicinity for amending the Official Community Plan (“OCP”) to permit these increases. Public hearings will come later when the Council seeks to amend its zoning bylaws to permit the increases, as well if the amendments to the OCP are approved. 



    The Roundhouse in winter.


    In a Council meeting this year on May 4th, councillors ignored the advice of their professional city planning staff on several points including restricting the increase in density. And the mayor, Marianne Alto, reduced the community stakeholder consultation period from the usual 90 days to 60 days. At the same meeting a motion the Mayor put forward to prioritize the project over every other project before the Council was defeated in a close vote. 

    Each successive group of condo buyers/residents in the current three towers in Bayview Place were enticed to the area for a variety of reasons—key among them was the re-development of the “red” railroad Roundhouse that has been declared a heritage site. It was claimed in Focus Equities marketing materials that it would be reimagined as a Granville Island-type retail facility. Now with the revised rezoning application, the Roundhouse is being overwhelmed by the towers, with no details having been provided about what will be done with the Roundhouse or who will move into the heritage buildings. 



    From Focus Equities


    Concerned and even bewildered petitioners are disappointed with how the heritage site is being treated, but even more aggrieved by the request to squeeze almost double the number of towers onto the site. 

    Is this a case of “not in my neighbourhood” which afflicts many municipalities faced with changing times? No, according to Holly Olson, one of the petitioners. “We want to see progress made, but not at any cost.” Holly points out that “the project has languished for almost 20 years. While we want progress it should not be progress at any cost that might be borne by future Victoria residents.” 

    Here’s what is at stake, and here are some of the petitioners’ concerns: 

    Increased Density—no objection to the 5 “towers” that were approved in 2005 which even then took the density well above existing limits but going to these heights now with 9 towers is complete over-kill say the citizen-action group for such a small plot of land—just one square city block. 

    Delivering—whether this developer will see this project through is a concern. The business model of Focus Equities appears to be rezone, subdivide and resell. Dun & Bradstreet has placed Focus Equities in the “subdivision industry” and it has had success with this model, e.g. Deerfoot Meadows in Calgary. Bayview, though, seems to be testing the model. Thus, the second and third of the first three towers were only constructed after Focus Equities brought in Bosa Properties following a “multi-year hiatus” (Victoria News, March 16, 2011). Petitioners wonder aloud what are the risks that a hiatus like this or other problems occur again? While the City has a Master Development Agreement with the developer, it was breached once already in the early stages after the first rezoning was approved before being remedied. Not an auspicious start as one of the petitioners has remarked. The Aquara Seniors Home project which started, stopped, but now appears to have started again, is another example of a lack of continuity in the development. These concerns are there even before looking at the real risks the site poses on environmental, commercial and construction grounds. 

    Heritage—now overwhelmed and side-lined by the proposed redesign, a group of heritage-minded experts led by the City’s first full-time Heritage Senior Planner Steve Barber have written and collectively signed a letter addressed to the Times Colonist with their concerns for the Roundhouse. Steve Barber: “[s]adly, our city’s historic character is under assault. A rezoning proposal currently before City Council for the E & N Roundhouse in the Victoria West neighbourhood envisions 9 towers at heights ranging from 18 to 29 storeys. The scale and height of these massive towers threatens to overwhelm the modest scale of the nationally significant E & N Roundhouse, its associated industrial heritage structures, and the Vic West neighbourhood.” The letter though has not been published or circulated by the Times Colonist at this point. The petitioners would like an explanation for this. The fact is there are genuine concerns over the heritage component of this project which culminated in the City’s ten-member Heritage Advisory Panel turning it down. That alone should be a red flag. It also does not square with how Victoria is promoting itself. From the City’s website: “[m]uch of Victoria’s charm and character stems from its unique and well-preserved historic buildings. Victoria’s turn-of-the-century architecture creates a sense of pride among residents and throughout the community. These heritage buildings are symbols of permanence and stability in an ever-changing world.” The point then must be to make the heritage buildings the centre of this development—not an excuse for it. 

    Affordable Housing—it now appears that any developer who is obliged or agrees to include “affordable” housing in their proposal is almost assured of being given the green light. It’s just one of those pressing issues of our time, concur petitioners. To this end Focus Equities has held out one tower of affordable housing if the Council approves the rezoning. Surely though the trade off on height and density that is being sought by the developer in exchange for this is too high according to the petitioners. There is a fear among the petitioners that any affordable housing could be an afterthought and might come too late and be too dear to be meaningful. It should be noted that since mid-2019 Council has required developments with more than 60 units to include 20 percent affordable housing in any event. At Bayview, the one tower offered in this regard falls well below that threshold. 

    Pace—petitioners are all for picking-up the pace. What worries them is that rubberstamping the revised rezoning application will not see anything move faster but the costs will likely increase especially those for construction labour and materials. Given this it must be asked whether future generations of Victoria residents, including tech-sector types whom Victoria is trying to attract, will be interested in a development like this or just be put upon to pay for that decision down the road? 

    Climate Change—there is barely any mention of how sustainable the 9 towers will be in the end. The petitioners see this as the missing link on the project. Victor Mattu has said “no one is talking about this. It’s the elephant in the room”. Victor, who lives in Songhees, knows that the increasing wind velocity we are seeing with climate change is going to turn Bayview into “just one big wind tunnel.” He wonders how enjoyable will that be for pedestrians wanting to visit the Roundhouse. 

    Petitioners share one thing in common. They love Victoria and want nothing more than the City to continue to maintain, benefit and further its position as Canada’s “best small city”. As Linda Casano, another petitioner, has said “and yet there is nothing small about this development, all of it is overblown, it’s just too much, way too much.” 

    It is suggested that Vic West could play a part as an up-and-coming affordable neighbourhood in Victoria. That what Vic West needs is an aesthetically pleasing enclave at Bayview. One that respects heritage, has the input of today’s members of the Songhees Nation, is sustainable and environmentally sound given its prior industrial use as a railyard. The petitioners are urging City Council to not recklessly turn a well-situated parcel of land near downtown into a high-rise jungle. The feeling is that if other cities want to do that good luck to them, but Victoria is held out as a place for civic-minded people of all ages and walks of life, and a place where people are attracted to live in small human-scale neighbourhoods. It is true that “villages” dot the city. As Linda Casano notes, “isn’t that what is so special about Victoria.” Petitioners claim it’s time to bring that village mindset and a thoughtful approach to creating communities back to Vic West’s Bayview... while there is still time. 

    Submitted by People for Sensible Rezoning. A Change.Org petition up for about a month now has over 1100 signatures.

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    This is a good overview of the situation. Why is council ignoring staff recommendations and concerns. I look forward to signing the petition oand going to the Public Hearing!

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    I really hope that Victoria City Council and the Mayor look closely at this issue. Excellent sensible points raised across the board. Let’s hope the government applies the same sense as this article. 

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    What used to be a beautiful community is being gentrified, motivated by greed, and not by good citizenship. This project is not in the best interests of anybody but the developer.  Has anybody noticed that the rendering shows no allowance for access roads to all these new buildings?  Parking ? Guest Parking ? The consequences of this project will be disastrous given the density of the surrounding buildings, the Brew Pub, the Marina and the Boom & Batten Restaurant. not to forget the Kimta gauntlet created by addition of bicycle lanes narrowing the road to virtually dangerous.

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    I find it very ironic that all these people that are photo'd representing "People For Sensible Rezoning" are all obviously Home Owners and probably real estate investors. 

    Hell three of them are definitely retired in that photo. Why not let more housing in exactly? Why don't these Karens & Darrens make like a tree and frig off. We need more housing.

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    What as always such articles lack is what vision they propose to support increased density. There never is a discussion about what a group like "People for Sensible Rezoning" will actually support, whether it's Missing Middle, this, or frankly anything that goes to support a more vibrant and urban center.

    Present your plan for what will bring 1500 homes to Vic West in another version. Let's actually hear what you all plan to support and discuss the merits of it.

    It's easy to just say no. Be part of the solution.

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    On 2023-08-28 at 11:34 AM, Guest Guest New Homebuyer said:

    I find it very ironic that all these people that are photo'd representing "People For Sensible Rezoning" are all obviously Home Owners and probably real estate investors. 

    Hell three of them are definitely retired in that photo. Why not let more housing in exactly? Why don't these Karens & Darrens make like a tree and frig off. We need more housing.

    Have you been to any of these consults or open houses? I have. I was the youngest in the room at 25, with a bunch of rich apples patting themselves on the back for one tower of poors (The rental tower I guess is not affordable?). Not really sure what they will charge for those, away from all the others by a rail barrier (which is planned to be a very busy bike trail eventually). These towers aren't targeted to young people or families, their target demographic is 50+ with money. The prices for what are apartments you own but still pay monthly for, are obscene. (I'm tired of calling them differently and I believe condos as a concept don't facilitate community growth the same way a town home neighbour does. They are impersonal, you can't actually do with the space what you want. Layouts don't lend for use as shared space with neighbours so there's rarely a place to sit and just talk about events in your immediate neighbourhood).

    We need housing, but we don't need housing that will cause a social divide over who can have access to ground space. Ask yourself this, why is it the social housing is only facing more housing? They don't get a view like the other towers. Not even considering where they are putting that tower, where they are planning on blowing up bedrock, cutting down tagged protected trees, and cutting out pedestrian access to Esquimalt road (Yeah, it was baffling to me too that they are taking away public land to build this).

    We don't need a social divide that will be caused by this project isolating by wealth and class. That's a concept the Italians call a ghetto. Gentrify and ghettoize have been the playbook for Vic for the last 10 years. It's hurting us. We need to be demanding better, not settling for after-thoughts. 

    Regardless, housing will be built here. The question will be: Will a local be able to move in and gain equity? The answer seems to be "no" as the current plan would have it. Which is why you have locals trying to say something before they no longer have the option to. 

    An aside, where are all these people who live in these towers supposed to work? Won't be in Vic West, there's nothing here (the retail space they plan on building that's what, 10 shops? doesn't even cover the one tower of people who have jobs). How will they be getting to work, car? There's no parking that I can see. Transit isn't strong enough for one morning rush of people out of those towers, the bus would be over capacity which we try not to do after the Point Ellice Bridge tragedy. Bikes I guess, but you only have the one bike route to downtown (which one commenter pointed out is actually being narrowed by this project) with the other direction really avoiding the township of Esquimalt aside from the millitary base, with geologic barriers of the steep hills from the E&N. 

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    The Bayview project has had several drawbacks and already qualifies as a missed opportunity to make a regional "architectural statement":

    1. It destroyed the pedestrian-friendly, Tuscany-style original concept site plan by Architect Paul Merrick (with winding cobblestone paths and welcoming open spaces)! Instead, this design was replaced with austere, architecturally-boring, nondescript high-rises...transposable to any other urban setting on the continent.

    2. It missed integrating this site with the bicyclists and pedestrians who try to walk as close to the shoreline as possible, discouraging them from wending their way through this historical site, instead of walling itself off from the surrounding communities and people.

    3. It promotes no communal activities as befit the Commons situated around the Roundhouse.

    4. It destroyed the sightlines of the harbour and the Olympic Mountains from along Esquimalt Road as well as destroyed the views of the condo owners directly to the north of the Bayview site. This insensitivity is very typical of developers.

    5. The development has accrued sizeable financial benefits from HUGE densification increases on the site as well as a large project ROI for the much lesser cost of the development fees.

    6. No serious considerations were given to mitigate the Climate Crisis or of providing "affordable" housing. Regarding the former, LEED standards are totally inadequate to deal with the exigencies and demands of dealing with the Climate Crisis. Climate mitigation considerations are not apparently being considered in the transport of toxic wastes from the Roundhouse site.

    7. Inordinate delays for dragging out much of the original project schedule appear to be due to sloppy and inadequate project management practices.

    8. Agglomerations of highly-concentrated high-rises (such as this project) in a Climate Crisis World require the installation of a shared geothermal heat pump facility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    9. Has offered a pittance, relative to the overall project cost and projected financial profitability due to substantially-increased site density, for Community Contribution Amenities.

    10. Has destroyed the concept of a Community Commons and open spaces for a farmer's market, a performance and music amphitheatre, and outside artisan exhibits integrated with the Roundhouse.

    In summary, the execution of this project on this unique site has been and is being very poorly carried out. Like most developers, the exercise was to cram as many high-end condos on this site as possible.

    Given the architectural background of the developer, one would have expected more than another high-rise eyesore!...although the same could be said about former mayor and architect, Alan Lowe!

    Apart from an inflated real estate bubble in Canada and this sector being viewed as a key economic driver, one has to wonder whether there is more going on than meets the eye in explaining why politicians are bending over backwards for unbridled land redevelopment and environmental abuse? Certain City of Victoria politicians over the decades have been unusually accommodating to this developer.

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    This is what Victoria could look like in the future, as all the ducks are lining up: a pro-developer council and developers planning to build more and more souless  dense towers.


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    Guest Roundhouse Redevelopment


    Concerns for Roundhouse Site Planning, Rezoning, and Redevelopment

    Attention Mayor Marianne Alto, and City of Victoria Councillors.                                                                                                      January 08 2024

    Your Worship and Victoria Councillors, Jeremy Caradonna, Chris Coleman, Matt Dell, Marg Gardiner, Stephen Hammond, Susan Kim, Krista Loughton, Dave Thompson:

    I write regarding the currently proposed revised rezoning and redevelopment for the Roundhouse site in the Vic West neighbourhood. It is very likely that you have heard concerns on this topic, both from adjacent residents, and from citizens of Victoria and our regional population at large – with aspirations and apprehensions for the prospects for a significant historic site – one with regional and national importance. These concerns can be detailed and underlined further.
    Support for Roundhouse restoration and for redevelopment of this site, with needed, but sympathetically in-scale new housing: 
    Carefully planned, historically sympathetic redevelopment of this property is long-due. The earlier committed urban design planning and rezoning allowances were generally much more congenial to the historic scale and character of this unique cluster of buildings than currently envisioned. The proposed augmentation in the current rezoning proposal of large, tall, additional buildings, crowded against these historic buildings and their site, is over-shooting the context of scale for this area, one of the most intact steam-age historic industrial sites in Canada, and a surviving original component of the railway development that initially helped enable our cross-continental nation, Canada. Supporting development - especially, for diverse new housing, are good objectives for the site, but should be carefully balanced for a more benign, better integrated end result. Rezoning for this property should be in exchange for needed types of new housing – but not so far out-of-scale and crowded against the Roundhouse buildings. 
    Detailed site planning should be resolved before rezoning:
    Details of vehicle routes, parking, emergency and firefighting vehicle access, should all be resolved prior to rezoning. Similarly, certainty of details and qualities for building use and design, and for public areas - should be well-assured.
    Urban design, architectural requirements – emphasize low & mid-rise building forms:
    Tall, vertical high-rise building forms are very difficult to place with favour for adjacent pedestrian areas, and for open public realm locations. Carefully-scaled, varied building podiums, with rich and diverse architectural detailing, and street set-backs for towers, as well as terracing tower setbacks, are all well-proven means to help ‘humanize’ high-rise buildings – and over-all constraint for moderate building heights is also an important factor. It is widely recognized by urban commentators and designers that dense mid-rise urban areas much better support public street vitality - than unrelieved areas of concentrated, tall, vertical tower forms.
    Prioritize active public uses - emphasis on good pedestrian amenities, open spaces: 
    A cluster of vintage buildings, constrained public areas, and static public uses – all crowded by immediately adjacent tall buildings - will not invite confidence to be embraced by a community. Wisely devised, lively mixed use public uses should out-weigh the temptations of height-intensive development. Successful implementation of vital public areas, indoors and outdoors, are typically supported by: a benign combination of: practical, useful services – along with imaginative, flexible, evolving programming of activities and events. These objectives should be prioritized against mono-impulses for high-density, height-intimidating, land development.
    Look to successful examples – and seek to learn from their best factors:
    Examples of rehabilitated Roundhouse complexes in Toronto and Vancouver merit evaluation. Both have some adjacent higher density residential uses – but in each case these buildings are located more comfortably non-proximate, with ample breathing space retained for their historic contexts - while instances of adjacent building height are moderated, both in over-all height, and by combinations of lower-scale, complementary nearby buildings. 
    Prior rezoning was intended in exchange for Roundhouse restoration:
    Any rezoning should ensure an active and effectively implemented restoration and rehabilitation of the Roundhouse buildings. This was not the case for the last rezoning up-lift – no restoration of the buildings, nor the site, has taken place, despite over a decade of a window of opportunity. Restoration should be ensured and substantially in-place before over-all rezoning is finalized. Stage rezonings and development permits to ensure that the Roundhouse restoration ranks as the initial, primary objective for this Victoria development.
    Evolving Urban Form can express and enhance the geography of our city core:
    In seeking ideas for the urban form for an evolving city core, as then Senior Planner, Urban Design for Victoria, the principle of emphasizing underlying urban geography was stressed. The prominent condition of the Songhees Peninsula hilltop has already been expressed with a tall building cluster. Roundhouse area buildings should have lower heights, tapering downslope.
    Aim for a truly exceptional development, that will endure as a popular asset:
    Victoria’s Roundhouse site is one of our region’s best, and most available, locations for an exceptional new community urban place – this opportunity should not be forgone with any unrecoverable, overly-large miss-step. Other sites, particularly to the north of Downtown, well positioned for regional transit, will be better suited for higher density housing. Look to the best suited long-term benefits for this unique historic Roundhouse site, so adjacent to Victoria's Inner Harbour.

    Sincerely, with good will and faithful hope for Victoria,

    Chris Gower, Architect, Urban Design Planner

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