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15-storey Pluto's Diner condo proposal a point of contention for Downtown Residents Association

Renderings depict two angles and a night-time view of Sakura Developments' 15-storey condominium proposal for 1150 Cook Street which formerly housed Pluto's Diner.  Sakura Developments

15-storey Pluto's Diner condo proposal a point of contention for Downtown Residents Association
MIKE KOZAKOWSKI, CITIFIED.CA
A proposal to redevelop the former Pluto’s Diner property at 1150 Cook Street into highrise residences has unearthed a long-standing disagreement between Victoria’s Downtown Residents Association (DRA) and the City of Victoria.
 
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In a letter to mayor and council issued by the DRA on September 14th, the organization reiterated its call for the City to close what it believes are zoning “loopholes" that ought to be a concern for elected officials in light of development guidelines in community plans, and real-world proposals that emerge before planners.
 
“The DRA has expressed ongoing concerns regarding the loopholes of the R48 Zoning Bylaw and Council’s apparent lack of interest in closing them,” states the introductory paragraph of the letter, signed by DRA Land Use Committee (LUC) chair Ian Sutherland.
 
Sutherland and the LUC are speaking to what they see as a disconnect between Sakura Developments’ height and density ask for the property – and the parameters of both the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Downtown Core Area Plan (DCAP) – which municipal staff support and have advised a feedback committee known as the Advisory Design Panel (ADP) to consider accepting.
 
“In the recent Staff report to ADP it states, ‘Staff consider that the proposal is generally consistent with the use, density and height envisioned in the DCAP.’ This kind of Staff guidance to Advisory Design Panel is highly problematic as it appears factually incorrect,” Sutherland writes. “Density for this proposal is 40% greater than permitted by the OCP and DCAP; which is clearly “generally” not consistent with either the prescriptions or what was envisioned by the OCP.”
 
Sakura’s proposal, rising to 15-storeys with nearly 130 residences above a commercial ground floor, is envisioned at a density of 7.78:1, which is a product of the property’s ground area relative to the total floor space within the building over its 15 levels. The OCP cites a maximum density of 5.5:1. However, the land’s R48 zoning, which trumps the OCP, has no density limitation but a height limitation, and therein lies the rub.
 
Sutherland has charged that planners are not adhering to their own municipal development suggestions for downtown and are permitting density in excess of what ought to be permitted, despite the lack of an upper density limit in R48 zoning.
 
The contention stems from an overlap in zoning parameters, guidelines and visions. The OCP, while placing an upper threshold of a 5.5:1 density for 1150 Cook Street, is more or less a guide predicated upon an over-arching vision that takes a comprehensive view of the downtown development equation, but is not set in stone. The DCAP, meanwhile, is another layer of guidelines specific to downtown Victoria and Harris Green to shape the design and character of a growing city centre. Meanwhile, the property’s actual zoning is the foundation upon which the OCP and the DCAP can be interpreted for that specific site. Therefore, with no density restriction as part of the zoning, a density of 5.5:1 is merely a suggestion, while 7.78:1 is permissible without the developer having to pursue a zoning variance relative to density.
 
“The R‐48 zone does not state a specific density entitlement and instead staff have adopted a highly debatable calculation to interpret and justify ‘as of right’ densities. If the R48 zoning bylaw does not specifically state a density entitlement, why isn’t an OCP amendment required for this proposal?,” Sutherland asks.
 
If that wasn’t enough controversy, the R48 zoning also permits construction without on-site parking, a perennial issue for the DRA which recognizes growing demand for parking on downtown streets and in parkades as private surface lots continue to make way for redevelopment efforts.
 
On the parking front, though, Sakura will supply two levels of underground space but at a ratio of roughly one stall for every three homes, and without an on-site allotment for commercial stalls or moving trucks. Despite the provision, Sutherland maintains the supply of parking is too low for the volume of homes Sakura hopes to build. 
 
“[The R48 zoning] does not require parking, however, there is a height variance being sought that will permit a building approximately 42% larger than the existing 10‐storey zoning limit, the OCP and DCAP would permit exacerbating the parking shortage downtown. There is no evidence to justify the provision of such a minimal amount of parking for this type of housing tenure, as the demand for onsite parking by tenants will surpass the parking supply. The outcome will be that these vehicles will be parked in the surrounding neighbourhoods effectively transferring the problem elsewhere.”
 
In response to the DRA’s feedback, a representative from Sakura tells Citified that the company has already undertaken aesthetic revisions requested by the DRA by making setback adjustments where possible on the tower’s upper levels, and incorporated a more ornamental garage entrance. The changes are part of an upcoming package to the City the developer hopes to have completed within several days.
 
As for building density and height issues, and concerns from the DRA over its interpretation of various layers of zoning and guidelines relative to their interpretation by planners, the builder says that the firm is pursuing a proposal in-keeping with established precedents for Harris Green, and with full support of planning staff.
 
The 1150 Cook Street proposal is among several high-profile projects making their way through the planning process.
 
Immediately to the north of the development site, Toronto-based Starlight Developments is in the midst of pursuing approvals for a two-tower phase of its Harris Green mega-project that will redevelop the Harris automotive dealership at Cook Street between View and Yates streets, and the London Drugs plaza one block to the west. The submission to the City from Starlight identifies rental towers rising to 17 and 19-storeys on the dealership lands, while multiple rental towers in excess of 19-storeys are envisioned at the London Drugs component.
 
On the same block as Sakura's proposal, developer Mosaic Properties Inc. is in the early stages of approvals for a 14-storey luxury condominium overlooking the View and Vancouver streets intersection, while two rental proposals (see here and here) are making their way through the planning process across the street along View Street, opposite Starlight's London Drugs property. C
 
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