Saanich approves $250M Nigel Valley housing plan

Huge development of market, non-market and supportive housing gains rezoning approval, to applause of public hearing audience

Times Colonist
September 18, 2018

Nigel Valley Development Project. Illustrative drawing of proposed development looking south.

District of Saanich council unanimously approved a $250 million development Tuesday night to applause from the audience at a public hearing.

About 25 people spoke to the development, a majority in support of the project in an area roughly bounded by Vernon and Darwin avenues and Lochside Trail and Saanich Road.

After four years in the making, the Nigel Valley comprehensive development zone — led by B.C. Housing on behalf of non-profit groups — has cleared its largest hurdle by gaining rezoning for the site.

There remain some legislative housekeeping matters, mainly involving covenants, to approve the development before the deal is sealed, but Tuesday night’s unanimous vote was the green light needed.

Over the five to seven years of construction, each agency and building on the site will have to come before council to request a development permit. The city’s planning department has been given direction from council to expedite the project so it doesn’t lag behind others, driving up construction costs and possibly negatively affecting its affordability.

Architect Franc D’Ambrosio and Malcolm McNaughton, B.C. Housing’s director of regional development for Vancouver Island, presented the plans to Saanich council.

McNaughton said the proposal would triple the number of housing units, replace some aging buildings, introduce park space and calm traffic along Vernon Avenue.

A partnership of B.C. Housing with agencies such as Broadmead Care Society, Island Community Health, Garth Homer Society and Greater Victoria Housing Society is well-positioned to create a development that would better serve the community than if they acted individually, he said.

“Nigel Valley will play an important role in the emergence of an urban centre for Saanich,” said D’Ambrosio.

Mayor Richard Atwell said the massive development of supportive housing, market housing and affordable housing in the Saanich-Douglas corridor will become a second downtown in the region, as the Saanich core expands.

“Saanich has been working on this vision for many years with many of the landowners,” Atwell said Wednesday morning.

“Over the next 10 to 20 years, we are going to see significant changes in this area, which is also the municipal precinct,” he said. “It’s going to bring a lot of housing to the core of Saanich where there is shopping, easy access to transportation. It’s where the density needs to go, and I think it fits very well with a prosperous Saanich.”

The proposal would see the Nigel Valley home to one five-storey building and another 16, which would be the tallest in Saanich. Supporters said the site is on a slope, so 16 storeys looks like 12.

McNaughton said objections to the height are objections to the design, and he promised to work closely with the community on design.

That did not sit well with some of the citizens who spoke at the public hearing, who said Saanich councillors agreed years ago to a maximum of 10 storeys. Another complaint was that a development the size and scale of the Nigel Valley should not be dealt with by a council facing an election in a month.

The Nigel Valley development will see residential-care units increase to 50 from 25 and affordable-rental units leap to 441 from 160. Housing with supports will total 25 units, and assisted living, 40 units, which don’t exist on the site. A 255-unit market housing development will subsidize the other units so they can remain affordable.

It will be a complicated manoeuvre to shuffle all of the agencies and still provide services while building and redeveloping each new building in a phased approach. “It will be an active campus, said Atwell.

Atwell said with a development this complex, city staff are also due recognition for the “many, many years” of work that went on behind the scenes with many agencies to bring the development to council.

As for how the upcoming election will reshape council with four councillor seats open, some residents complained of a lack of accountability when departing councillors vote on a proposal.

“This issue should be postponed until after the election and dealt with by a new council,” said resident Charles Lamb.

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