Vancouver developer withdraws Victoria proposal at last minute

Reliance Properties pulls rezoning application for 103-home development over public opposition, but plan may be reconsidered after council election

Reliance Properties’ application to transform the Northern Junk property at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria won’t be considered until after the election.

The Vancouver-based company withdrew its rezoning application from the city committee-of-the-whole agenda at the last minute after the Downtown Residents Association sent a letter to the city criticizing the proposal.

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“This project, with each iteration, has become less attractive, likely cheaper to build and certainly less friendly with each new version,” says the association’s letter.

“This is an eight-floor wedge — a very simple proposal. It does not attempt to modulate height to relate to the lower scale of most of its neighbours. It is considerably more massive than the Janion. The western facade takes over the waterfront assertively and regrades the site.”

The association letter cites issues such as the height variance (almost twice what is allowed), the lack of parking because the proposal with 54 underground parking stalls is significantly less than requirements, and the loss of city property to accommodate the development.

“The City of Victoria is giving up public waterfront land at our most obvious gateway into downtown, potentially creating one of the largest properties in Old Town for the sole benefit of a large Vancouver developer who requires large projects of this scale to fulfil its business model.

“The decision for the sale of public property to the applicant was made by council without public input several years ago. Neither the applicant nor the city has demonstrated that this project represents the highest and best use of public land, and the sale has been presented to the public as a fait accompli,” the letter says.

Jon Stovell, Reliance president, said he was at a loss to understand the views in the letter, which was sent to the city but not copied to his company, given the community engagement to date. However, in light of the comments, he thought it was best to re-engage with the resident association and possibly bring the application back to committee of the whole shortly after the election.

“It seemed to us to be completely inconsistent with just about everything we heard at the community meeting,” Stovell said, noting that there were also concerns that the project would be heard by the current council but decided by a different council after the upcoming election.

“That’s completely anticipated and permitted under the Local Government Act, but it seemed like a fair point.”

Reliance’s project called Gateway has been in the works for about eight years. The 103 residential units would be composed of 52 studio, six one-bedroom, 33 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom units.

The market condominium at 1314, 1318 and 1324 Wharf St. is a sister project to the recently renovated Janion Hotel across Johnson Street.

As with previous plans, the latest would see the restoration and seismic upgrading of the two heritage Northern Junk buildings for use as a commercial building. The two warehouse buildings date to the 1860s and are the oldest commercial heritage buildings in the Victoria.

In addition to preservation of the two heritage buildings, the proposal includes an eight-storey residential building to the north of the site along Johnson over ground-floor commercial, a one-storey retail pavilion, one level of underground parking for 54 vehicles, 108 long-term bicycle stalls and 24 short-term bicycle stalls.

Reliance is committing to:

• A public pathway running east/west between the proposed eight-storey building and the existing Northern Junk buildings from Wharf Street to the waterfront.

• A public pathway running north/south between the proposed commercial pavilion and the Northern Junk buildings running from Reeson Park to the new east/west pathway.

• A right of way over the property designated as the future harbour pathway.

• Seismic upgrading and restoration of the two heritage buildings.

• $311,000 in amenity contributions.

Future strata councils would be prohibited from preventing rentals.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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