A 10-storey downtown Victoria rental project now in its excavation stage could grow by an extra floor and 14 additional homes if a 'development permit with variance' application before the City gets the nod.
Late last year as site preparation began, the company went back to the City to pursue a design change that would better align with political agendas and a revised downtown plan issued by the municipality, while adding more rental homes at a time when they’re needed most.
“Since our rezoning, the City modified its Downtown Core Area Plan to permit a building of up to 12 storeys at our site, which means we can add an extra floor with minimal effort, and do so in a neighbourhood where heights already exceed the storeys we’ve been approved with,” said Robert Fung, President of Vancouver-based The Salient Group.
As for the project’s facade retention of two heritage buildings, that element will carry over and secure the street-side presence of buildings dating back to the early 20th century, which are considered key elements of what was once Victoria’s ‘Antique Row.’
In fact, Fung says, an 11-storey design iteration compared to the approved 10-storey massing will be “very difficult for the average person to tell apart,” with floor 11 recessed from the street and the tower’s visual statement remaining virtually identical to what was already secured through the City.
However, time is of the essence for council to approve the change, Fung notes, given structural requirements that will need to take place in order to accommodate more height as construction work progresses.
“We’re already underway with this project, and this change, done now, is the least expensive, least bureaucratic and least problematic way to add more housing units, which we’re hopeful will be supported,” Fung said, adding that “we’ve re-engineered the structure to accommodate a taller building, and to deliver 14 additional housing units that the City intimates it ultimately wants.”
With the project already set to deliver 105 rental suites to the downtown core under a 10-storey design (in studio, one, two and three-bedroom floorplans), and 119 suites under a proposed 11-storey design, Salient Group has successfully secured government funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI) that allows private developers to add affordable housing into their unit mix. This funding stream is available to proponents with approved projects.
|A comparison of the proposed 11-storey redesign with 119 units, at-left, and the approved 10-storey design with 105 units. The Salient Group
Under the RCFI, the initial rent-up requires that all rents be priced at 90% of market value, and 20% of all homes plus 10 additional units to be rented at government-calculated affordable rates tethered to median household income.
At 105 units, '825 Fort Street' will yield 31 units of affordable housing, and at 119 units, the affordable unit count will rise to 34. The program must remain in place for a 21 year period.
“The City knows we have achieved the RCFI affordability criteria post-approvals, so to be able to seamlessly add more affordable housing through such a small design change really is a best case scenario,” Fung said.
The parking make-up will remain unchanged under the new proposal, with 57 vehicle stalls in an underground parkade.
An additional variance that is being sought, aside from height, relates to setbacks, which stem from new changes in the Downtown Core Area Plan (DCAP). Slight variations to the requirements will be needed.
Although rare, if not altogether historic to be pursuing more height post-approvals in a city known for cutting back heights pre-approval, Fung believes local political goals, recent changes to the DCAP’s height tolerances, federal affordability programs and provincial housing expectations have aligned to make his pitch a reasonable step forward.
“Here we have a unique opportunity to add units to a project, and there are few ways in which something like this could be done that are easier for the electorate to accept, and it’s not in conflict with any of the housing or design criteria, aside from the setback DCAP changes, and will deliver more housing, faster. It’s exactly what the province wants to see, and it conforms with the City’s own housing goals.” C
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