(This story has been amended to correct an error. A second phase to bring the total suites at Mount Doug Court up to 240 was cancelled as a concession following the Mount Doug Court’s previous application before council in March of 2016).
The proposal for a $10 million, three-storey Mount Doug Court expansion at 1550 Arrow Rd. turned into a two-hour debate at Monday night’s Saanich council meeting as to whether three storeys is one too many for that corner of the Gordon Head neighbourhood.
The dire need for affordable seniors housing in the region, which the 84-unit building seeks to address, is challenging the opposition argument from neighbours to limit the building to two storeys. In the end, council unanimously approved moving the application forward to a public hearing, where many of the same arguments will be heard again.
The development is designed by the non-profit Mount Doug Seniors Housing Society, which has run Mount Doug Court at 1550 Arrow Rd. for 44 years, as well as the No. 10 Architectural Group.
“The issue of affordable seniors housing is a huge one but not [enough to override] the concerns of neighbours,” said Coun. Vic Derman. “In saying that, I support that this go to a public hearing.”
More than 60 people filled council chambers as more than a dozen spoke on the matter. The recurring argument from concerned residents to Mount Doug Court was the height, as well as the traffic.
The Gordon Head Residents Association has no objections, only concerns regarding setbacks, fencing and vegetation buffers (to reduce the impact of the higher density) and consideration of upgrades to Arrow Road to improve safety for pedestrian and cyclists.
In contrast, neighbouring resident Warren Weicker pointed out that only a quarter of the four-acre 1550 Arrow Rd. property falls within the 500-metre radius of the Shelbourne and McKenzie intersection.
“Therefore it does not conform to the [higher density] height of the local area plan,” Weicker said. “It should be two storeys.”
Regardless, Derman and the rest of council said they’d heard enough positive things to push 1550 Arrow Rd. to a public hearing.
The safety of Arrow Road, which has a sidewalk but is narrow and windy, was also brought up with questions of whether Saanich could widen it.
“Widening a road like that will only speed up the auto traffic, keeping it narrow will actually limit the traffic in the area,” Derman said.
Among those who spoke in favour of the new development was Mount Doug Court tenant Nancy Hutkin.
In early 2016 Hutkin was forced out of her previous living situation when her roommate was suffering from cancer. Hutkin was told by CRD Housing it would take at least two years to find her a place. She was able to get into transitional housing, but that only lasts two months.
“[We are] people who were low earners, people who have given their time to society, but couldn’t afford [to buy] a home,” Hutkin said. “I raised three children by myself, I worked. Where are people [like me] supposed to go when they retire?”
Ironically, Mount Doug Court now has a waitlist of 25, which takes about two to three years to move through. It didn’t have a waitlist when Gail Caryn took over the manager position in February 2016. So when Hutkin applied, Caryn was able to find her a spot.
“[Hutkin’s] situation is very ideal for what we’d like in the industry,” Caryn said. “It shouldn’t take more than two months to get a person into housing from a challenging situation.”
Many of the tenants at Mount Doug Court live on as little as $10,000 annually. Of the 81 people there, 37 have cars (there are only 41 parking spots). All take advantage of their access to the walkable amenities of University Heights, Nellie McClung library, Bow Pond Park and more.
A representative from nearby Dawson Heights affordable senior housing at 3170 Cedar Hill Rd. said their waitlist is 75 people.
“There is a great need for housing like this,” Caryn said. “We have a turnover of about 12 people per year, depending on circumstances.”
The Mount Doug Court application initially came before council last March as a 100-unit proposal but was postponed. The sentiment from council at the time was that the proposal’s design lacked sufficient consultation with the neighbours.
On Monday, however, council praised the society for better consultation, its increased setback from neighbouring properties and the decrease from 100 to 84 units.
“Our business case for the new building relies on it being 84 units and three storeys high,” Caryn said. “We’ll be able to explain that at the public hearing.”
“This project has had a pretty full airing [of concerns] along the way and I’m prepared to keep an open mind at public hearing,” said Coun. Susan Brice.