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Vancouver’s Wesbild reignites $230M Victoria project

Dispute settlement with Home Depot clears path for plan to transform the old University Height shopping centre site into a mixed-use community
Rendering of proposed development in Saanich district of Greater Victoria. | Wesbild

If all goes smoothly, shovels could be in the ground next spring to begin the four-year, $230-million redevelopment of University Heights shopping centre in the Saanich District of Greater Victoria, says the Vancouver-based developer.

Wesbild Holdings has resubmitted plans it put on pause last year to replace the 1980s-era shopping centre at the corner of Shelbourne Street and McKenzie Avenue after it became bogged down in a dispute with its Home Depot tenant.

 The latest mixed-use proposal is similar to the previous one, but adds 10,000 square feet of retail space on the north side of Home Depot used for its garden store. Under the latest proposal, that covered space will be walled in and a new garden centre will be set up to the north.

Home Depot asked last year for another 10,000 square feet. It also sought $5 million in compensation and other concessions. Wesbild and Home Depot will not be commenting on that issue, a developer spokesperson said.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes says he is “delighted” that the project is returning. It had been approved to go to public hearing in 2020, but that did not proceed because of the dispute with Home Depot.

“This is tremendously good news,” Haynes said June 3. “It was never certain they would be able to come back because there was quite a bit of work to be done between Home Depot and Wesbild.”

Haynes points to Wesbild’s plans for 597 rental units, with 60 designated as affordable for 20 years, plus 11,000 square feet of daycare, cycling facilities, a public plaza, community space and electric-vehicle charging stations and more. It “ticks many boxes,” he said.

The proposal also includes a B.C. Transit hub, more than 121,000 square feet of new commercial space, including a grocery store, $500,000 toward public art, and a landscaped courtyard with a dog park and children’s play structures.

Wesbild will be holding a public-engagement process and staff will vet the new plan before it goes to council, which makes the decision whether to send it to public hearing.

“I’m hoping it will come to council in the summer [or] in the fall and hopefully we can have shovels in the ground in spring 2022,” Haynes said.

The idea of constructing housing on top of commercial space probably wasn’t thought of when the existing mall was built, Haynes said. But today, “We see it in Europe where there’s density in what they call centres and corridors, and that’s part of the new model that we have here.”

Kevin Layden, Wesbild president and chief executive, said in a statement that the project previously received  widespread community support. “We are hoping that will continue as we restart consultations with our neighbours.”

Wesbild estimates the project will create 309 construction-related jobs and another 209 permanent jobs.