We will work in all urban environments and in all forms of construction. However, we certainly have been drawn to working with many great historic buildings in neighbourhoods that we fall in love with. There is usually a strong emotional connection to old buildings within a community. It is a joy to help adapt this vestige of an area’s rich history and to make it relevant to today. We feel that this can be done by building on the strength of the past with good design and planning, and that good architecture and urban design can be a critical ingredient in creating a vibrant community.
Two of our active projects on Fort Street right now incorporate the facades of historic buildings into the new construction. In these cases, the historically significant elements of the original buildings were limited to the architecture and features of the building facades. Maintaining them is critical in preserving the heritage street-front character while also enabling the construction of new much needed rental homes.
What are you doing on Fort Street?
Fort Street is at a pivotal point in its history, evolving from “Antique Row” to the “Fort Street Tech Corridor.” The goal of our projects on Fort is to maintain the area’s historic character and charm while sensitively accommodating the growth needs of the community.
At 840 Fort Street, we have the Sawyer Block under construction
. The building is named for the “Sawyer Sewing Centre” that occupied the building from the 1960s through to the 2000s. The handsome two-storey façade is being restored and incorporated into a new six-storey building with 60 urban studios and junior 1-bedroom rental homes.
What are the challenges with accommodating residential growth right now? How can we facilitate more of that?
Victoria is extremely land constrained. The historic downtown has strict height and density restrictions. The single-family neighbourhoods are highly defensive against change, while industrial lands need to be preserved for the functional needs of the city. The areas that can accommodate higher densities and height are limited, but need to carry most of the city’s growing housing demand.
Given these conflicts, the City needs to stand behind their Official Community Plan, which was based on data-based planning process, created over the course of several years with deep levels of public consultation. It identified future growth needs and identified the areas that could accommodate it. Effectively downzoning from growth targets in the OCP by way of Local Area Plans ultimately undermines the City’s objectives for strategic growth.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities for creating new housing?
I think there is a clear message from the community that there is a lack of housing across the entire spectrum of needs, including affordable housing, missing middle housing, student housing, family-oriented housing, and senior’s housing. At the same time, there is a lot of available funding through government and government agencies trying to incentivize affordability and various types of these homes.
There is a real opportunity to work with financing initiatives from all levels of government to deliver a range of housing solutions. We’re doing some of that on our Sawyer Block project but we definitely want to be doing more.
What is it like to work in Victoria, compared to Vancouver or New Westminster?
Victoria is a pleasure. It is surprisingly similar to New Westminster in its spirit of place and character of the people we’ve worked with.
What is the most interesting thing you’re working on right now?
We are active in Chinatown and are keenly interested in finding the formula to help Chinatown stay relevant, without changing its character. It is a wonderful and important part of the Victorian identity but it is incredibly fragile.
For us, Chinatown is not a development project, it is a long-term passionate affair that we are emotionally invested in. It has a unique and wonderful character and helping to keep it vibrant is the challenge.
That is exciting. So, what are you going to do to help keep Chinatown relevant?
We’re spending a lot of time listening and trying to understand this complex area. Some of the things we’re planning will be by trial & error, but we’re taking an organic approach and more importantly having fun along the way. Stay tuned.
What’s next for you?
We’re excited about the work we’re currently doing. Our approach is to engage in communities to try and understand their needs and work with the local administration to realize solutions for these needs. We really look forward to doing that throughout the CRD. C