›› Ruben Anderson

Land ownership is changing in the area west of Vic High, with plans for 155 units of affordable housing to stand tall beside the school track.

There is a patchwork of lots owned by the City of Victoria, School Board 61, and BC Housing in the area between ­Chambers St. and the school. Negotiations to swap land titles and make a more rational assembly seem to be nearing completion.

This would result in the City of ­Victoria gaining ownership of the ­Compost ­Education Centre and Spring Ridge ­Common lands, while SD 61 would gain two City-owned lots directly west of Vic High. If the BC Housing property at 1209 North Park also changes hands, the School Board would have an assembly of lots ­covering four blocks between Gladstone and Grant.

So what does this mean for Fernwood?

The current plan from the City of ­Victoria has the Compost Education ­Centre and Spring Ridge Common ­staying as community green space.

The BC Housing facility at 1209 North Park is operated by the M’akola Housing Society, and the services at that site would move to another location in the CRD.

Most importantly, the School Board will give a new 60 year lease to the ­Capital Region Housing Corporation for this land assembly plus some of the unsightly moonscape left behind by the demolition of the Fairey Tech compound. This will generate some revenue for SD 61, which may be used to defray the costs of the Vic High renovation and improvements to the field and track.

With such a large lot available, CRHC is proposing replacing the current 18 units of housing in the Caledonia townhouses with 155 units, which would be a major addition to Victoria’s supply of affordable housing.

A press release can be found at tinyurl­.­com/CRHChousing.

Paul Kitson, the CRD’s Manager of Development, and Rob Whetter from dHKarchitects, presented context and early design concepts to Fernwood NRG’s Board of Directors on April 2nd, and as this issue goes to press on April 3rd, will be presenting to the Community Association Land Use Committee at the Fernwood Community Association.

Some highlights of the discussion were:

  • CRHC owns almost 1,300 units on 40 sites, with roughly 200 units under construction, so this new development will represent about 10% of their portfolio.
  • The planned rent structure is for 20% Deep Subsidy, 50% Rent Geared to Income, and 30% Affordable or Near Market. At this stage of design, 20% of the units will be accessible.
  • Construction could start in the fall of 2020 and be completed in spring of 2022.
  • Early concept designs maintain some views through Caledonia, Vining and North Park to the significant historic building of Victoria High School.
  • A complete grid of treed, walkable ­public paths is proposed.
  • The architect is proposing ground-­oriented units with small yards or patios, and is exploring stepping building height up from three-storey townhouses at Gladstone, a four-storey building, and then two five-storey apartments at Grant. These tallest buildings will likely be just a little shorter than Vic High, and will be quite a bit taller than other nearby buildings.
  • Parking will be underground. A typical CRHC complex has 0.6 parking spots per unit, while early designs at this site include almost one spot per unit. This is based on a demand analysis—but as some Board members pointed out, the site is an easy walking distance to downtown and is close to bus routes, bike lanes, three schools, parks, grocery stores, and two urban villages.
  • Board members pointed out that the City of Victoria has created a dangerous and unpleasant traffic situation on Chambers St. and this project will make it worse. There was unanimous feeling that Chambers must be redesigned, and discussion about whether it would be best to repair the street grid by opening Grant St. again.
  • This development will be built under the new BC Building Energy Step Code, and will be designed to achieve Step 3, which is not described as “­ambitious” on the Energy Step Code website (see energystepcode.ca/faq).
  • The City of Victoria is refreshing or ­completing Neighbourhood Plans throughout the city. Fernwood’s last plan was completed in 1994 and calls for:
    • an integrated site plan for these lots—Vic High, the Fernwood Community Centre, and William Stevenson Park.
    • the retention of duplex zoning on these lots.

CRHC will return to the Land Use Committee, tentatively on June 5th. If you would like to attend or offer feedback on this major change in Fernwood, please contact David Maxwell, at the Fernwood Community Association, at ­fernwoodlanduse@gmail.com.