The squeeze on affordable housing in Greater Victoria loosened a little as Saanich council approved a new 84-unit seniors housing development at Mount Douglas Court, 1550 Arrow Rd.
Council voted 8-1 in favour of rezoning the property from apartment to a new zone called comprehensive development affordable housing at the Feb. 21 public hearing. Only Coun. Vicki Sanders was opposed.
“I do hear the concerns of the neighbours, their report was very high quality, raising valid concerns of the Shelbourne LAP,” Coun. Fred Haynes said. “Ultimately it’s about the size of our hearts, not the building. We have an extreme crisis of housing, and this saves people from being homeless.”
The proposal is for a three-storey expansion by the Mount Douglas Seniors Housing Society, backed by the Anglican Diocese of B.C., and estimated at about $10 million.
It was approved for public hearing in early January and will be constructed on the same four-acre lot as the 45-year-old Mount Douglas Court affordable seniors housing complex, which has 81 tenants. The application was initially brought before council as a two-phase development in March 2016. Following that meeting the application nixed the second phase, a long-term plan to add a 140-unit building that would replace the existing facility. Mount Douglas Court also scaled back the current design from 100 units to 84.
“We’re disappointed we don’t get to provide those additional units given the need in the community but feel like a reasonable compromise was met,” said Catherine Pate, communications officer for the Anglican Diocese of B.C.
The new development meets the Anglican Diocese’s mandate to help the vulnerable, and in this case that’s through housing seniors in need, Pate said.
Mount Douglas Court manager Gail Caryn told the Saanich News in January there is a great need for housing like this, and that the building has a waitlist of 25 people with a turnover of only about 12 people per year.
From the start, the expansion proposal was met by opposition from neighbours, many of whom joined the Arrow Road Advocates Committee or wrote letters of protest.
“If it is council’s intent that proposals for affordable housing need not be compliant with the key planning principles found in the OCP, LAP, SVAP, etc., then we urge council to make formal amendments to the Saanich zoning bylaw to make that explicit,” said a letter from the Arrow Road Advocates, signed Barb Geddes, Charlene Gregg, Loti Jackson, Marg Buckland, Morven Wilson and Warren Weicker.
“The need for affordable housing certainly had weight, and I don’t disagree, but on balance, some of the neighbours have been there as long as Mount Douglas Court has,” Sanders said. “It’s difficult when you talk about the impact to someone’s largest possession, their home.”
Haynes added it’s not going to be easy for Saanich to update its aging local area plans.
“We rely on feedback from the community and staff, such that we have a ‘living local plan,’ and in my mind Arrow Road met that criteria,” Haynes said.
Several neighbours reiterated their concerns over “traffic safety” and “neighbourhood value” at the recent hearing, also citing the lack of Arrow Road sidewalks.
Both Sanders and Haynes said council was very aware that the neighbours had hoped the building could be reduced from three to two storeys.
“[Council] understands it needs to be 84 units to be financially sustainable,” Haynes said. “[The applicant] showed what two storeys [with 84 units] looked like, but to keep 84 units within the legal setbacks it was a much larger footprint.”
Pate said the goal is to break ground on the new buildings this spring.