Round six and counting for CrystalView

September 19, 2008 at 6:30 am 3 comments

I attended yesterday’s Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall to see the latest proposal by Vancouver-based Westbank for the former Crystal Court Motel site on Belleville Street (the Times-Colonist reports on it here).

The Planning Dept. generally supported the new massing but didn’t have enough time to fully evaluate it or offer a recommendation.

There was some heated discussion around this project at the Council table. After looking at Westbank’s presentation, the Councillors offered their comments. Charlayne Thornton-Joe wanted to see that staff report, as well as community input as this design is radically different from what was previously commented upon. Geoff Young more or less liked the new design but did not like the bonus density deal, saying we should not be selling zoning although a higher density is OK. He said the preservation of views, while not sacrosanct, were worth considering. Pam Madoff was very protective of the current T-1 zoning (tourism primary), saying this may be the wrong building for the site. That was an important point, and one reason why I thought the Art Gallery was a perfect fit for the project. Helen Hughes echoed other commenters who preferred a single-tower massing over the twin tower model. Young asked, “ignoring the current neighbourhood boundaries for a moment, what would the optimal massing be in a larger urban context”, to which head planner Deb Day replied, at or under the Empress Hotel eaves. Sonya Chandler was silent throughout the conversation, despite the significant impact this proposal will have in the areas of accessible public green space, environmental standards and affordable housing funding ($443,000 was offered by Westbank to the Affordable Housing Fund which Council wavered on as it was seen by some as buying density–a practice frowned upon outside Downtown’s boundaries).

In the end, Council voted to move the project to APC, ADP and neighbourhood comment at which point it will come back to CotW and then possibly to Public Hearing.

Here is the timeline so far:

July 15, 2007: Rezoning Application
July 18 2007: Rezoning Submission
Dec. 20 2007: Rezoning Application Amendment
Feb. 20 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
Feb. 26 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
May 12, 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
June 13 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
June 19 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
Aug. 01 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
Sep. 09 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment
Sep. 18 2008: Rezoning Re-submission Amendment

Talking to those on all sides of the issue afterwards, the one thing that could be agreed on was that the process has taken an unacceptably long time to get to where it’s at now. More than two years after it was first conceived, no-one can agree on an acceptable use for the site, causing dissention among staff and Council at City Hall, driving the developer and architect to the point of desperation and taxing the resources of the neighbouring Community Associations.

Entry filed under: architecture, arts and culture, urban design.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. davingreenwell  |  September 19, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    So what’s the deal with “buying density”? I have been under the impression that we want higher density living (to me, this means more stories on a building, perhaps there is another definition) because it would lower the overall downtown housing price due to the increased availability that higher density building offers. If I understand this correctly, developers are willing to do it, but the City is standing in the way? This seems like a problem with the City to me. Am I missing something?

  • 2. davingreenwell  |  September 19, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    PS: Thanks for keeping us in the loop, I enjoy reading these updates!

  • 3. robertrandall  |  September 21, 2008 at 9:56 am

    The City of Victoria made a committment several years ago to encourage density in the Downtown core, both with office space and residential, but the residential component was deemed so important to the health of Downtown, City Hall was willing to provide an incentive in the form of allowing larger and taller buildings on a site than was previously allowed. In return, the developer would provide certain amenities, which could take several forms, the most important of which was supposed to be affordable housing but now can include things like heritage preservation, public art and sidewalk improvements.

    This was a way of affordably providing community amenities since Federal and Provincial Government funding for a lot of city infrastructure dried up in the 1970s.

    That’s it in a nutshell. I’ll probably elaborate more on this and include some of the problems and challenges with Bonus Density in a separate blog post. I can tell you this is one of the most contentious issues down at City Hall.

    Keep the questions coming!


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