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Landmark 26-storey, 272-unit development approved for Esquimalt's Carlton Club lands

A rendering of a 26-storey condominium tower and an eight-storey rental block approved for Esquimalt Road at Head Street in the Township of Esquimalt. The project will replace two aged buildings with 272 residences and approximately 8,000 square feet of retail space.  GMC Projects

Landmark 26-storey, 272-unit development approved for Esquimalt's Carlton Club lands
Mike Kozakowski, Citified.ca
A landmark highrise development known as the '900s' proposed for Esquimalt was approved on Monday night in a 5-2 vote following a multi-year planning process and two pubic hearings held one month apart.
 
Council heard from Esquimalt-based applicant GMC Projects on the merits of a 26-storey condominium tower and an eight-storey rental block proposed for an aged commercial building at 900 Carlton Terrace, formerly home to the Carlton Club nightclub, and 900 Esquimalt Road, where a three-storey, 17-unit end-of-life rental and ground floor retail node is currently situated.
 
GMC had returned to council on April 8th, after a March 4th meeting resulted in a vote among elected officials to seek guidance from staff on the relative value of a $4.1 million public amenity package the project would deliver (including a minimum $1 million pledged towards affordable rental homes for Esquimalt residents and workers, and members of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations).
 
In its report, staff described GMC’s investment into Esquimalt’s public realm and the affordability program as historic for the Capital Region, in terms of a dollar value, which not only outpaced expectations elsewhere in the Capital Region by millions of dollars, but promised a more wholesome contribution than would be expected in multiple Metro Vancouver jurisdictions.
 
At Monday’s meeting, officials heard from members of the public and GMC’s development team on the housing challenges in the community, including the difficult situation many members of the Canadian Armed Forces find themselves in when posted to CFB Esquimalt.
 
During council’s deliberations, councillor Darlene Rotchford – who spoke of having a small child and being a navy wife – said that although GMC’s vision was not fully aligned with the township’s official community plan (OCP) given its 26-storey height as well above a 12-storey OCP limit, she had to look to the future of Esquimalt, and felt council needed to take meaningful steps on housing supply for current and future residents.
 
Councillor Tim Morrison, who had reservations about the proposal’s massing, ultimately voted to support the application, provided the township and council would embark on a review of the OCP in relation to height and density in specific areas of the community.
 
Councillors Ken Armour and Jacob Helliwell also expressed their support for the proposal, echoing sentiments raised by fellow councillors to undertake an OCP review to better align the vision document with current development realities, while Mayor Barb Desjardins outlined the importance of not allowing a development proposal of such calibre to be rejected
 
Councillors Andrea Boardman and Duncan Cavens voted against the application, although both remarked on its positive attributes.
 
900 Carlton Terrace.
A rendering of the 900s proposal, as viewed from Esquimalt Road at Carlton Terrace, towards Head Street. GMC Projects
 
Rising to 26 storeys, the condominium tower will become a significant addition to Esquimalt’s built form. 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, with a follow-up on April 8th, were a true representation of the sentiment of the community, residents by-and-large appeared 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 planning several years ago. Former Xwsepsum (Esquimalt) Nation Chief Rob Thomas made remarks to council on April 8th, speaking to GMC’s engagement with the nation, and efforts to assist the nation with housing affordability.
 
In a statement made last week, Milne spoke with Citified to the application, following the township’s release of a report on amenity contributions. 
 
“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 Victoria-based dHk Architects, the project 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 will 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.
 
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) provides 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.
 
With approvals now in-hand, Milne expects pre-sales of condominiums to begin as early as fall of this year, with a construction start expected in the second half of 2025.
 
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 serves as the site of its present-day head office. C
 
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