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26-storey landmark proposed for Esquimalt could deliver Capital Region’s largest public amenity contribution

GMC Projects' proposal for a 272-unit condominium and rental project along the 900-block of Esquimalt Road at Head Street is headed to council on April 8th. The Township's research into the developer's planned $4.1 million public amenity package contribution has determined Esquimalt is in-store for a significant amenity infusion as part of the project, one that will outpace, by a significant margin, amenity expectations from across the Capital and even among Metro Vancouver municipalities.  GMC Projects

26-storey landmark proposed for Esquimalt could deliver Capital Region’s largest public amenity contribution
Mike Kozakowski, Citified.ca
A mixed-use condominium, rental and retail development proposed for Esquimalt Road at Head Street is expected to deliver a significantly larger public amenity package than required within any municipality of the Capital Region, according to data compiled by the Township of Esquimalt.
 
Proponent GMC Projects is pursuing approvals for a new landmark on Esquimalt’s eastern gateway known as the ‘900s,’ (see website) in the form of a 26-storey condominium tower at 900 Carlton Terrace and an eight-storey rental building at 900 Esquimalt Road, both with commercial spaces at-grade. The housing density would yield 272 residences in junior one bedroom through three-bedroom layouts, while the commercial component would create some 8,000 square feet of modern storefronts or restaurant spaces fronting Esquimalt Road and Head Street.
 
As part of the project, the developer has proposed over $4.1 million in the form of a public amenity package, which, through research undertaken by the Township of Esquimalt to assess comparable amenity offerings, would gift Esquimalt the absolute pinnacle – and by a wide margin – of investment towards municipal amenities and affordability measures delivered as part of a market (non government-backed) mixed-use development.
 
GMC's projected amenities include a minimum $1 million housing affordability contribution, $800,000 by way of below-market rents in a new secured purpose-built rental for Esquimalt residents and workers, and $200,000 for members of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations delivered as each Nation deems appropriate. Over $3 million is split between a dedication of more than 10,000 square feet of land (over 26% of the development site's total) to public spaces that include a community dog park, two large plazas, a parklet and an expanded pedestrian boulevard. Also included is transportation infrastructure and public realm improvements like a protected cycling lane and an expanded BC Transit bus shelter sized to accommodate BC Transit's intentions of creating rapid bus service along the Esquimalt Road corridor.
 
Dog park.
A rendering of a public dog park on Carlton Terrace, proposed as part of the '900s' project, and part of a $4.1 million public amenity contribution offered as part of the project.  GMC Projects
 
The $4.1 million does not factor in the costs of commercial and residential tenant assistance policies GMC has proposed, nor the increased cost of proposing the highest standard (known as IEL-4) of the zero-carbon BC Building Code Step Code for the project.
 
Furthermore, 90% of GMC’s proposed bonus density is for the purpose of secured rental housing, which in many jurisdictions, including the City of Victoria, is itself considered a public amenity.
 
The Township’s research into amenity offerings, prepared for an April 8th council meeting during which officials will decide the ‘900s’ proposal’s future, has concluded that GMC’s investment into the public realm would far outpace amenity expectations among all of Greater Victoria’s municipalities, including the City of Victoria, and even out-spends developments planned for Metro Vancouver, where higher condominium prices and higher rental rates help offset large amenity offerings.
 
“Staff estimates that, if the project were in the City of Victoria and was a rezoning application, the applicant would be required to pay approximately $1,360,000 in total density bonusing contributions,” the report states, and infers that Victoria Council could even decrease their financial expectation provided the “application contributes towards [Official Community Plan] goals in other ways.” Additional contributions could include providing secured rental housing and building to a higher zero carbon step code, as is the case in GMC’s proposal.
 
Rendering of the 900s proposal, looking towards Head Stret.
A rendering of the 900s proposal, as viewed from Esquimalt Road at Carlton Terrace, towards Head Street.  GMC Projects
 
Esquimalt’s research shows that in the City of Colwood on Victoria’s West Shore, an amenity expectation would land in the vicinity of $1.5 million, while the District of Sooke would seek $680,000, the lowest of the Capital’s 13 municipalities. The highest asks would be in the Town of Sidney on the Saanich Peninsula where $1.9 million would be expected. In Central Saanich, $2 million would be on the table. Remaining municipalities land between Sooke's and Central Saanich's amenity programs, the report confirms.
 
Even in the City of Vancouver, an expected contribution for 272 units would sit below that of GMC's contribution, and inclusive of that city’s housing affordability requirements.
 
“The total contribution [in the City of Vancouver] is estimated to be $3,000,000 plus a potential contribution of 20% of the units as affordable,” the report says, referring to BC’s largest municipality, where construction costs are lower than on southern Vancouver Island due to different seismic requirements. It should be noted, that landlord earnings for rental units are higher in Metro Vancouver, along with higher strata unit prices, enabling developers to accommodate higher amenity contributions than are common on the south Island.
 
As for comparisons to existing or upcoming notable projects within Esquimalt, the staff report shows that GMC’s amenity investment is well ahead of its peers, by millions of dollars.
 
Esquimalt Council’s April 8th meeting will mark the second time in the span of a month GMC Projects will be before elected officials. The project was presented to Council on March 4th, where Mayor and Council voted to postpone a decision on whether or not to approve the application in order to seek feedback on the monetary value of proposed public amenities as they relate to offerings elsewhere in the region and in the province. Council also asked the applicant to provide additional rationale on the project’s architectural direction.
 
Rising to 26 storeys, the condominium tower is a significant proposal for Esquimalt. GMC Projects’ President and CEO Jordan Milne has spent the past two years engaging with the community to create an understanding as to why this site is the right location for the Township's first tower of notable height, and if the letter-writers and a line-up of speakers at the March 4th meeting were a true representation of the sentiment of the community, residents by-and-large appear supportive. Notably, both the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations have shared their support in response to GMC’s engagement, a process that the company says began at the outset of project planning several years ago.
 
“This is a transformative proposal for Esquimalt that has been years in the making. As we do with all of our projects, we set out to design the best urban form for this prominent corner, which is long overdue for revitalization. It’s critical to take a long-term view when looking at how to get the most benefit for the community from an important site like this one because these buildings will be here for 100 years. Designing the tower at this height with a small floorplate, creates the least shadow impact on our neighbours, while densifying at the right location, in a mixed-use commercial node with the right mix of housing at the right time,” said Milne, adding:
 
“Esquimalt is home to the region’s largest employers, but their employees live elsewhere because they can’t afford to live in Esquimalt, and in turn, we all live with the thousands of vehicle trips per day that those workers make to commute to Esquimalt from other parts of the region or southern Vancouver Island. This project represents an opportunity to address real, tangible housing needs in our community, while adding a landmark design that Esquimalt can be proud of and doing so to the highest standard of the zero carbon step code.”
 
Designed by dHk Architects, the project as proposed incorporates a unique set of design features that are meant to create vertical and horizontal movement with metal and glass panels, representing Esquimalt’s connection to the ocean.
 
The development would include 176 condominiums and 96 rental homes with more than 45% of suites allocated as two-bedroom or larger units, to focus on family housing and larger homes for downsizers, all in a setting with significant resident amenities.
 
These amenities (separate from the public amenities) include a fitness centre and yoga studio, provisions for pets like a dog wash station and dog lounge, meeting or co-working space, a sound-proof music room, a craft or media room, an indoor entertaining space with a kitchen, a games area and restrooms adjacent to an expansive outdoor area that includes an outdoor kitchen and barbecue space, a mini ‘parklet’ along with a games pitch, gardening plots, and a variety of socialization spaces with an eye to various group sizes.
 
A view of the '900s' proposal's rooftop amenity area for residents.
A rendering of the 900s proposal's rooftop amenity area for residents, situated on the eighth level rooftop of the rental building.  GMC Projects
 
The orientation of the condominium tower, Milne says, will provide ocean views for six of eight units on every floor, and sweeping vistas towards the Inner Harbour, the Olympic Mountain Range, the Sooke Hills and Thetis Cove.
 
Parking will be in the form of an underground parkade, and one level of above-grade parking atop commercial spaces that will enable future adaptability as transportation habits change, to permit additional commercial uses.
 
An approximately 8,000 square foot retail component where ceilings will reach 15 feet (enabling operators to include mezzanine spaces) will provide opportunities for a wide range of commercial operators, including restaurants and cafés, personal services, and the possibility for banking. Existing commercial tenants are supportive of the development, Milne adds, and confirms leaseholders will be assisted with their relocation plans to make way for construction, and will be granted the first right-of-offer to return to the site post-completion.
 
As one of the Capital's most active developers, GMC’s new-build pipeline includes a proposal at 515 Foul Bay Road in the City of Victoria for a mix of family-oriented boutique townhomes on a 1.2-acre estate. At Sidney’s Cedarwood Inn & Suites property, GMC recently secured approvals for 97 residences as ocean view condominiums and townhomes. Milne and his team are also planning a purpose-built rental in Vancouver along East 40th Street, and a purpose-built rental in Seattle's SeaTac community. In 2022, GMC completed a rental development along Cook Street in Victoria known as The Charlesworth, and in 2018, GMC opened Portage West, a conversion of Esquimalt’s Econo-Lodge motel property on Admirals Road at Craigflower Road into 96 waterfront apartments, which also serves as the site of its present-day head office. C
 
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