Letter to Council: Chinese Freemasons Housing Society – Rezoning/OCP Amendment for 550-558 Pandora Avenue

Posted on May 1st, 2018 · Posted in Land Use, Letters

Mayor Helps and Council
City of Victoria
No.1 Centennial Square
Victoria, BC
V8W 1P6

May 1, 2018

Re: Chinese Freemasons Housing Society – Rezoning/OCP Amendment for 550-558 Pandora Avenue

Dear Mayor Helps and Council,

The DRA LUC has reviewed the drawings for the proposed building and hosted a CALUC meeting on 4 April 2018 for the above-mentioned application. The CALUC meeting notice was mailed to 2137 recipients. One hundred and seven people registered their attendance at the door. This was the largest number of attendees at a DRA CALUC in a decade.

Based on the information presented by Architect Alan Lowe for the applicant, the purpose of the Rezoning is to create a 5-storey, 38 unit “affordable” rental building with ground floor commercial space fronting Pandora Ave. A variance for height is also sought. No parking spaces would be provided as part of the application which complies with the existing zoning entitlements. The building is intended to be administered by BC Housing as “affordable” housing under a 30-year commitment. The existing commercial building is not heritage designated and will be demolished.

Comments and concerns raised at the Land Use Committee public meeting and by committee members are as follows;
• It was asked if the new build could happen without disrupting the existing businesses? The answer was: “That it was not likely possible due to construction difficulties”.
• It was asked what happens if BC housing doesn’t back your project? The answer was: “It will not likely proceed”.
• It was pointed out that: “This building has no parking but there will be residents that will have cars. Where will they park? This will add to existing parking pressure downtown”.
• Many concerns were expressed regarding the loss of the existing vibrant independent businesses that would be forced to move and perhaps not survive if this development proceeded. Most attendees expressed concern that it is not just affordable housing that is at issue but the loss of affordable business space that allows independent merchants to create very special and unique businesses which is the key attraction for both locals and visitors to Victoria’s Old Town. Concerns were expressed that these businesses will now be simply turned out and bland national/chain retailers will replace them in what will become much more expensive retail units. There were appeals from attendees to the applicants to give the existing businesses the first option to return at the same rent.
• Attendees expressed concerns regarding the loss of approximately 30 jobs with the displacement of the businesses and that the proposed commercial units were not of the size to create that many jobs after redevelopment.
• Several attendees expressed concerns that the proposed aesthetics of the building “did not fit” in Chinatown. Concerns were expressed that the new buildings that are being erected in Chinatown such as the Union diminish and overpower the existing heritage character with insensitive design degrading this federally recognized National Historic Site.
• Several attendees expressed concerns regarding how construction could proceed over the new bike lanes without totally disrupting traffic and impacting other businesses
• Attendees expressed concern regarding impacts that lengthy construction periods would have on local businesses.
• Many attendees appeared to be workers/residents from the downtown local area and pointed out that the proposed micro units were still not “affordable” and were built for a market that didn’t include them. It was clearly stated that what is “affordable” are larger units, 2 bedrooms or larger, that could be shared and this development only offers two such units large enough to share.
• Attendees stated this project is proposed of mostly micro units and it was their personal experience that this type of unit offered “poor livability, little dignity or affordability”.
• The DRA policy to not support OCP amendments for additional density in Old Town without a compelling rationale was explained. It was stated that to date, the DRA has not been presented with a rationale for any project that is compelling.
• No attendees at this meeting spoke in favour of the application

A recent and lengthy public consultation process conducted by the City of Victoria reviewed the OCP and DCAP and policy guidelines for density and height for all of downtown and updated those policies and bylaws to reflect the public interest. This included the clearly stated policy for density in Old Town to be maintained at 3:1 FSR. On June 20, 2017 the Board of the DRA approved a policy:

“To not support OCP amendments to increase density in Old Town without a compelling rationale to do so.”
Community concerns were clearly stated regarding the “poor fit” of the proposed design into the federally recognized National Historic Site of Victoria’s Chinatown and the lack of affordability given the unit sizing for single occupancy. While the applicant’s proposal to supply much needed affordable housing is laudable, the DRA LUC feels that the application in its current form does not achieve the objectives of affordability for a wide range of residents including families or meet the density requirements of the OCP and therefore lacks the compelling rationale necessary to support an OCP amendment.

Sincerely,

Ian Sutherland
Chair Land Use Committee
Downtown Residents Association
cc COV Planning

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