Feb 9th public hearing will determine future of 1,500-unit downtown rental dev with new spaces for London Drugs, Market on Yates
Mike Kozakowski, Citified.ca
Published February 7, 2023
A historic downtown Victoria development proposal will go before council on February 9th, seeking approvals to redevelop the 900 and 1045-blocks of Yates and View streets.
Elected officials will weigh the merits of an application from Starlight Developments, known as Harris Green Village (see website), to build more than 1,500 purpose-built rental housing suites, 100,000 square feet of ground level retail, a selection of affordable homes, a half-acre public plaza with a public green space, and 10,000 square feet of community space for the City of Victoria.
Envisioned as a three-phase project, the initial build would occur in earnest on land already cleared by the applicant on Yates Street at Cook Street following the relocation of an automotive dealership to a new vehicle showroom on the West Shore. Starlight has proposed two residential towers of 20 and 21-storeys above a mixed-use podium for the property, delivering more than 500 suites (including 80 affordable homes), a daycare, and street-level storefronts anchored by a modern Market on Yates grocery store.
“The potential of adding more than 1,500 purpose-built rental homes to Victoria’s downtown core, with virtually no resident displacement, represents a unique opportunity at a time when the region is experiencing a critical housing shortage,” said Shauna Dudding, Starlight Developments' Executive Director of Development, Western Canada, adding that “an all-hands-on-deck approach is now necessary to overcome the under-building of apartments between the 1980s and mid-2010s.”
Dudding confirms subsequent phases would occur in the 900-block of Yates Street to supply the remainder of Harris Green Village's housing density across three towers of up to 32-storeys tall, and managing the transition of landmark retailers like Market on Yates (relocating to phase 1) and London Drugs into new retail locations. The 900-block of Yates Street will also provide downtown residents with a new half-acre public green space and an accessible playground.
|A half-acre public green space with a children's play park will be situated between phases two and three of the Harris Green Village proposal, along the 900-block of Yates Street. Starlight Developments|
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC – an advocacy group representing the entire spectrum of rental housing providers province-wide – recently wrote to the City of Victoria expressing his support for Starlight's proposal and speaking to the urgency of adding a significant volume of new dwellings to the Capital’s housing stock.
“This project represents an exponential step in addressing the broader rental supply crisis in Victoria by ensuring that families have access to adequate rental housing, specifically in the Harris Green Village neighbourhood,” Hutniak wrote. “Rental housing is, and will continue to be, the best housing option for many Victoria residents, both current and future. Ensuring that we continue to enable new rental housing to be built to meet the demand is critical for a diverse and robust community.”
Hutniak provided multiple data points to illustrate the situation in Victoria, drawing attention to 70% of the municipality’s land mass being dedicated to single-family-homes, while containing roughly one-quarter of the City’s households. With nearly two-thirds of Victoria’s residents living in rentals, Hutniak’s market data shows 86% of them reside in multi-unit buildings (primarily dating back to between the 1960s and early 1980s), despite the limited land mass accommodating high density development styles.
“This zoning anomaly forces multi-unit rental housing to an ever-shrinking portion of the residential land,” Hutniak says. “Which forces greater demand than the existing rental housing supply can support, translating into persistently low vacancy rates and less access to attainable housing for a growing cohort of the rental population.”
|Harris Green Village's phase 1, as viewed from Cook Street looking west (between View and Yates streets). Starlight Developments|
Speaking to Citified last year, the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Executive Director Jeff Bray said the COVID-19 era has illustrated the importance for the City of Victoria to insulate its downtown economy from broader market turbulence. Bray noted purpose-built rental proposals like Starlight’s are “critical” to the city centre’s vitality.
"For downtown to be successful, it has to be diverse and inclusive, and we recognize the drastic need for increased density, and more importantly diverse density, to sustain the downtown core long-term," Bray said.
According to Bray, "we need to build lots of low-income housing, lots of purpose-built rentals, high-end condos, housing for workers. But really, it’s the purpose-built rental housing that is so critical, as it brings in the young professionals and downtown workers, and ensures our employers operate in a community that provides attainable housing for their employees, and through this diversity our businesses can be more resilient to withstand any future downturn in the economy.”
To reinforce the sentiments of Hutniak and Bray, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) newly released market report for the south Island confirms Victoria’s current apartment vacancy rate continues to struggle with only 1.5% of purpose-built inventory available for rent at any one time. Rental condominiums, meanwhile, are practically off-market in Victoria, with just a 0.2% vacancy rate.
While Greater Victoria continues to see population growth in excess of estimates (a 1% annual growth average was expected through 2038 in the early 2000s, with actual growth occurring at closer to 1.5%), the federal government has outlined an ambitious plan to expand Canada’s intake of immigrants, which, according to Statistics Canada, could see the Capital Region reach a population of 485,000 by 2041 under a ‘high immigration’ scenario. The most recent census from 2021 counted just under 400,000 residents throughout Victoria’s Census Metropolitan Area.
Citified has calculated the new housing need for the south Island to accommodate the levels of growth projected as 44,000-units, if supplied at the current ratio of residents-to-homes in Greater Victoria. That ratio, however, is expected to shrink in the decades to come, putting more pressure on supply and potentially requiring 50,000-units or more to meet real-world demand.
To learn about participating in the February 9th public hearing, click here to view the latest information regarding the public hearing process, and how you can get involved by writing council with your opinion on the proposal, or speaking to council in-person at Victoria City Hall. To learn more about the Harris Green Village proposal, click here. C
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