Q&A on downtown Victoria's largest rental development, and more, with Andrew Browne of Starlight Developments
Ten on the 10th
Published February 10, 2022
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
Ten on the 10th's inaugural 2022 segment features Andrew Browne, Senior Development Manager with Starlight Developments. Since mid-2019, Starlight has been working on their proposed Harris Green Village development, and have also put forward active development applications in Langford, Nanaimo and Central Saanich, with more to come across the Vancouver Island. Browne is leading the Harris Green Village project and shares his insights on Starlight’s vision for this high-profile area of downtown Victoria.
Click here to view a list of former Ten on the 10th Q&As.
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you.
What is the vision for Harris Green Village?
The vision for redeveloping Harris Green Village is to create a mixed-use rental community, a solid foundation for social interaction and a catalyst for positive transformation that will enrich the neighbourhood and provide attainable homes in Victoria’s urban core.
The community will include over 1,500 new purpose-built rental homes, nearly half an acre of green space including a first for Victoria, a privately-owned park with an accessible and inclusive play area, and a 10,000 square-foot indoor community space that will be programmed in partnership with the City of Victoria. We are looking to create a place where people will live with their daily needs close-by, and a great destination for Victorians to visit.
Starlight Developments is moving forward with redevelopment for one and a half city blocks in Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood – the 900-block Yates St, home today to Market on Yates, London Drugs, and other local businesses, and 1045 Yates St, home today to the Harris Chrysler dealership.
What have you done to engage with the community on this project?
We began our community engagement process in mid-2019 with a series of open houses to gather community feedback on the future of Harris Green. The second phase of these meetings included a hands-on workshop where guests participated in an interactive massing and modelling exercise for the site using plexiglass blocks.
Despite the pandemic, we have had the opportunity to meet with neighbours, business owners, and community representatives in smaller groups or online. Last month, we held two community meetings on Zoom that were well attended and provided us with great feedback. We are currently running a programme where kids can provide drawings of what they would love to see for the play area on site.
What feedback do you hear the most often to the proposal?
There are a few themes we have heard consistently over the years as we engaged with our neighbours and other community members. First, everyone recognizes how serious the need is for additional rental housing that provides a variety of housing sizes to meet different families’ needs, and we have seen that need grow considerably during the time we have been moving through the development’s application review process.
The community loves the retailers that they currently frequent such as Market on Yates, London Drugs, and other smaller shops so they are pleased that we are in discussions with our commercial tenants about the future site. We also hear the community’s desire for places to gather, both indoors and outdoors, particularly in a park, which is why we have included half an acre of green space in the middle of the neighbourhood for residents and the community to enjoy. The first phase will be anchored by a new and improved Market on Yates.
What will you be providing back in terms of affordable housing?
The project will include a selection of affordable and accessible homes which we’d like built as soon as possible so we can provide much needed housing to the area.
Where are you at in the process?
The project will be going to a public hearing in the coming weeks. We hope to begin construction on the first phase quickly thereafter.
What else is Starlight working on in the region?
Starlight is working to deliver new purpose-built rental homes in several municipalities throughout the Capital Region. These include an offering of townhomes on Michigan Street known as The Cove at James Bay, which are designed for couples or families. Starlight is also developing two new rental buildings in Central Saanich on the former Marigold Nursery site. We are working on the West Shore with a new rental community being planned near the Trans Canada Highway.
Starlight is involved with numerous philanthropic and charitable initiatives across the country, including important work in Greater Victoria. Can you speak to Starlight's local investments into community-building and the company's charitable goals?
Starlight was honoured to be the title sponsor for the Lights of Wonder in downtown Victoria during the recent holidays. We felt this fun, free, and family-friendly event was sorely needed, as the pandemic has put a damper on so many family activities. We also made a significant contribution to the sports stadium located in the heart of Langford, acquiring the naming rights. Renamed to Starlight Stadium in 2021, the sports venue was a natural sponsorship fit for our company philosophy of being actively engaged in the communities where we operate. We have also contributed to the local community in other ways, including sponsoring the artwork at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness’s project Tiny Town in North Park. We’re looking forward to a pandemic-free future, where we can sponsor more in-person events.
Outside of your busy schedule overseeing the delivery of what could become Greater Victoria's largest new rental housing construction project by one organization, what do you do? What keeps you grounded?
To balance the office work I like to be outside – cycling, hiking, and skiing – and since the pandemic we’ve added two Belgian Malinois dogs to the family, which are a delight to train and see flourish. Family time is a big priority, and the pandemic was a great reminder of that. Professionally, I’m active in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Urban Development Institute in both Vancouver and Victoria. With ULI, I co-chair the BC Young Leaders Group, where I mentor our programming and events volunteers.
How have the impacts of COVID-19 changed your approach to development, and the purpose-built rental industry as a whole?
We see a renewed, careful focus on the design of living spaces and having enhanced and varied amenity options (think podcast recording studios and sophisticated in-building gyms). Increased attention to touchless entry to buildings, elevators, and suites is likely to continue as well. Operationally, the pandemic reinforced the importance of and need for rental housing as vacancy remained at or near record lows.
I've had the fortune of working alongside Starlight in your efforts to acquire property for development and plan for the delivery of significant volumes of rental housing on the south Island. Can you speak to what you're seeing, in terms of land availability for development - or the lack thereof - and what municipalities could do better to foster conditions helpful to this industry?
In terms of developing land sensibly located near where people want to live, work, and play, everything easy has already been done. If we want to continue to protect agricultural land and rural and wilderness areas, growth will by necessity be directed to existing neighbourhoods.
In May 2021, Scotiabank noted that Canada would need an additional 1.8 million homes to bring us up to the G7 average. We have a housing crisis in this country that demographics and strong immigration tells us is not going away, absent deliberate effort.
Many of our post-war boom neighbourhoods are just starting to experience change or turnover for the first time, and it is proving hard to navigate for everybody – residents, developers, and municipalities alike. Today’s long and complex development application process for infill and redevelopment projects needs to mature and recognize that neighbourhoods will be going through a period of change and rejuvenation, so that we can effectively deliver the housing that British Columbians need. Municipalities that shape their policies to facilitate the delivery of housing will lead in attracting young families, talent, and economic development, and ultimately provide a better quality of life. C
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- Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you
- View CBRE Victoria's website here
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