Posts filed under ‘architecture’

Hudson Grand opening

I took a tour of the new Hudson heritage renovation yesterday. I wrote about it here.

City of Victoria heritage planner Steve Barber said the Hudson will “spark a rejuvenation of the Downtown core” and hoped that the Hudson will spur further work that will strengthen Downtown’s position as the centre of the region.

The Times-Colonist covers it here. Hey, how did I get in those photos? There’s some great city photos in that gallery, too.

A quick video tour of one of the corner loft suites follows:

September 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm 1 comment

Vic News: Downtown plan being drafted

New vision for downtown

By Roszan Holmen – Victoria News
Published: June 22, 2010 9:00 AM
Updated: June 22, 2010 9:48 AM

The downtown is a great place to live, said Robert Randall, chair of the Downtown Residents’ Association.

“New shops are opening all the time and new residential buildings are coming online meaning more choices,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News.

“The challenges continue to be related to social issues and making sure problems aren’t simply displaced from one district to another,” he added.

“The loss of St. Andrew’s school and the Village Marketplace (on Pandora Avenue) remind us that when social problems are ignored and businesses falter it has the potential to create a dead zone that takes years to recover from.”

Buy-in from every department is a big concern, Randall added.

“For instance, is the engineering department looking at innovative solutions regarding sewage in Harris Green which is already at capacity? If this area is Victoria’s new high-density neighbourhood we need more than just dreaming from the planning department. Our half-billion dollar infrastructure deficit is a big roadblock to achieving these goals.”

June 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

Cuff Report and City governance update

A while ago I promised an update on Victoria City Hall’s efforts to update its Governance Model in the wake of the release of the Cuff Report (previous post here).

I held off updating until I could do a bit more research but really wasn’t able to attend as many meetings as I should in order to give an informed report. But I will try anyway to describe what I’ve observed over the last year, along with some insight from people closer to the action than me.

It’s hard to say whether things at City Hall are more streamlined. Surely, their effort at fast-tracking the replacement for the Johnson Street Bridge backfired terribly as Council, Mayor and Engineering Department greatly underestimated public sentiment for the old bridge while critics expressed doubt over the justification for replacement.

The replacement of the old committee structure with a new model was supposed to ease the workload of Councillors. The old Committee of the Whole–the twice-a-month meeting of Council was replaced by five separate committees. One of the new committees, Planning and Land Use is typical: the committee only uses three of the eight Councillors. Their reports on development permits, rezonings and heritage matters are then referred to a full meeting of Council. This is intended to cut down the workload for Council.

Sounds like a more efficient use of resources, right? Problem is, Planning and Land Use is probably the most vital committee, along with Governance and Priorities but while Governance has all eight Councillors, the other four committees have only the three attendees. Yes, their findings will eventually reach everyone at the next Council meeting but this means the majority of Council doesn’t get to see an item until it’s well into the process. They’re used to seeing something appear at the old Committee of the Whole before it gets its shot at the Big Leagues Thursday night. This puts some Councillors at a disadvantage: three will have seen the initial rezoning or environmental report etc. and had time to digest it. The rest are seeing it for the first time.

To compensate, some Councillors sit in on meetings anyway, even though they technically can’t contribute and must sit on their hands while their colleagues get to ask the questions. So in many cases, the amount of time spent in meetings is comparable to the old model but there is less expertise at the table.

The other most notable change is in communications. As noted by writer Yule Heibel in a recent issue of FOCUS magazine, City Hall went on a post-election hiring binge. Many of the new hires were in the communication department as the City tries to reign in Councillors or City staffers who might “go rogue” by saying something (innocently or otherwise) to the media not already cleared for public consumption. I find it interesting that the City’s Heritage Department, which normally keeps a watchful eye on every crumbling brick and windowsill has been totally silent about the imminent loss of this one-of-a-kind and truly historic bridge.

The City is also increasingly turning to the Internet as a means of reaching the public. While a long-awaited overhaul of the City of Victoria website drags on, communications staff have spun off several stand-alone websites, like the one covering the bridge replacement or the new Official Community Plan. While attractively laid out and full of information, their home outside the structure of the main site sets a dangerous precedent. Will every initiative get its own site? There’s a strong push within the City to make it so but will visitors to the main site overlook the numerous spinoffs?

So which of these breakthoughs will stand the test of time? Which will be quietly dropped or tweaked? We’ll probably find out not long before the next municipal election.

So it’s a work in progress. No-one, including Mayor and Council, expected this model to work right out of the box.

April 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

St. Andrew’s Elementary to close

By Robert Randall

A version of this article originally appeared on Vibrant Victoria.

St. Andrew’s Elementary School, at Pandora Avenue and Vancouver Street, will close. Photo © by St. Andrew’s Elementary School.

St. Andrew’s Elementary, a fixture in Victoria’s North Park neighbourhood for decades, will shut its doors and amalgamate with St. Joseph’s school on Burnside Road according to a statement by the Bishop of the Diocese of Victoria, Richard Gagnon.

The announcement, part of a briefing outlining a new strategic plan for Victoria Catholic schools, comes three years after the closure of another urban Christian school, the Greater Victoria Christian Academy. The GVCA had classrooms in The Church of Our Lord in the Humboldt Valley and Central Baptist Church on Pandora Avenue until 2007. The school faced declining enrollment linked to parental concerns about social problems surrounding the needle exchange on Cormorant Street, a block north of Central Baptist.

St. Andrew’s principal Keefer Pollard denies the move is precipitated by the street community that gravitates toward the 900 block of Pandora and Harris Green, saying the school’s mandate is to respond to the needy. St. Andrews participates in the Pandora Green Good Neighbour Association and is an active participant in improving conditions in Harris Green and North Park.

Pollard cites declining enrollment as one factor in the decision to close the school, saying both St. Andrew’s and St. Patrick’s (located in Victoria’s Jubilee neighbourhood) have too many empty seats and are unable to balance their budgets. Saanich’s St. Joseph’s, on the other hand, is at capacity with 200 seats. A planned expansion in five years will double the current number of students at St. Joseph’s.

St. Andrew’s, rated highly in the C.D. Howe Institute’s rankings of local schools is located at 1002 Pandora Avenue, in a 1931 heritage building. The building is not seismically upgraded to current standards, a point of great concern to Pollard and one he feels will be rectified by a move to a new state-of-the-art facility.

Left unanswered is the question of what happens to the school building when it is vacated in five years. Owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese, the property encompasses the main school building, an annex containing a gymnasium, a playground and playing fields. The Diocese will begin a series of consultations with parents, teachers, the Catholic community and other stakeholders over the next several years before coming to a decision on the fate of the property.

The school made headlines in 2008 when it spearheaded a protest against the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s bid to relocate the Cormorant Street needle exchange to the former St. John’s Ambulance building at 941 Pandora, a short distance from school grounds. The neighourhood, already reeling from an increase in social disorder exacerbated by a high concentration of social services in the area, was chosen as the new location for the exchange in a surprise move that caught parents, residents and business owners off guard. Many felt the addition of a needle exchange so soon after the Cormorant Street debacle would be the tipping point that would lead to an irrevocable change for the worse.

Copyright © 2010 by

April 10, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Johnson Street Bridge a beater: redux

In a previous post I asked the question, “Is the Johnson Street Bridge a beater“, in other words, was the City treating it like a guy treats an ’87 Chevy on its last legs–only doing the barest of safety maintenance before it heads to the wrecker?

New information has come to light thanks to a Freedom of Information request on bridge maintenance logs. For more on this, consult and the current issue of FOCUS magazine. Here’s a timeline summary of what we have learned, based on the best information I have read so far:

Early 1980s: the black bridge is repainted blue (I remember this because we were driving under the bridge at the time and my mom’s 1976 Mercury Bobcat was spattered with brown primer paint).

1999: Extensive repairs on the bridge are completed. Councillors acknowledge that based on past history, more structural work will need to be done in 20 years. City manager of transportation and development Clive Timms says the refurbished bridge is now good for several more decades of useful life, although a full paint job will have to be done before 2002. Council at the time frets about the inconvenience and price of a full paint job.

EDIT: I am told that around 2002 a City report notes that pack rust has set in and that normal painting will only exacerbate the rust’s spread. I don’t have confirmation of this, however.

2005: It appears the promised recoating was never done. In addition, after this date no additional painting was done except for some graffiti removal.

2008: At the request of City Council, Delcan inspects the bridge and delivers a report the following year.

2009: Council, citing the Delcan report, decides to replace the bridge, claiming it is beyond practical repair.

I suspected back in September that the City considered the bridge a beater and treated it accordingly. Now we have the proof, in that essential post-rehab painting was never done, and that the Delcan assessment was commissioned several years too late, long after the City decided to stop painting it. I have also heard that Council was unaware the bridge was deteriorating at an unexpected rate during that crucial 2002-2008 period which shifts the balance of blame to Engineering although I think more research needs to be done to find out who dropped the ball. It may have a lot to do with the staff changes at Engineering in the mid 2000s as the old-school nuts-and-bolts guys were replaced by engineers with a more “academic” background and a sense of “ownership” of the bridge was inadvertently misplaced.

My current feeling is this: replacement is likely now the best option. City Hall will never embrace the rehab option with any degree of enthusiasm, so forcing them in this direction is asking for trouble in the form of an underfunded, overbudget, half-assed job. We can only ask that they change the culture of neglect in order to ensure the new bridge is properly maintained.

April 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm 3 comments

Vantreight and Woodwynn: two sustainability models

The second part of my look at three local farms that are reinventing themselves in very different ways. Published at

Does agriculture have a sustainable future in the Victoria region? According to two local farmers, the answer is yes. An earlier article profiled Madrona Farm in Saanich’s Blenkinsop Valley, which is at the finish line of a bid to turn the farm over to The Land Conservancy. This article profiles two local farms that are struggling to find ways to stay relevant.

Vantreight’s Hill Project

In Central Saanich, long-time daffodil farmer Ian Vantrieght has a plan to ensure long-term stability: transforming several acres of what he calls non-productive land on his property on Wallace Drive into 58 single family homes. After buying out his brother Michael for control of the farm in 2006, Ian initially conceived a plan to develop a mix of townhomes and single-family-homes (89 units in total) on the calved-off piece of land. Dubbed The Hill Project, the plans for the 33-acre site have since been downscaled and have been ping-ponging through the development process for over three years. Dozens of iterations were drawn up and scrapped (Vantreight counts 82) and contentious meetings were held at Central Saanich Council with project critics, supporters, the CRD, Council and Staff debating everything from the merits of developing on the Agricultural Land Reserve to interpretations of the Regional Growth Strategy.

Uphill Struggle

Although much of the Vantreight holdings are still devoted to daffodils, the family has diversified by increasing number of acres to greenhouse production and the introduction of a wider range of agricultural products. But Vantreight admits even this is not enough to guarantee the economic viability of the 126-year old farm.

Vantreight’s voice is weary as he describes the latest turn of events and what could happen if the plan falls through. He is determined to pay off the debt incurred to secure the family farm, but warns if the Hill Project site is sold off to other farmers, there is no guarantee it won’t be further subdivided into hobby farms with limited or no food production.

Last Monday evening, Central Saanich Council received the latest application for review. It will then wind its way through the various departments and the Advisory Planning Commission before coming before Council again later this Spring.

Woodwynn’s “hand up”

Woodwynn Farm, also in Central Saanich at the Saanich Inlet side of the peninsula, is in the midst of a dramatic transition. Managed by Richard Leblanc, the 193-acre farm on Saanich Road West is gearing up for a mid-April 2010 opening of what Leblanc describes as a “therapeutic community.” Modeled after a similar concept in Italy engineered at ending chronic homelessness, LeBlanc is busy planning for the arrival of the first four workers at the organic farm. Unlike court-ordered work projects, labourers at Woodwyn Farms will be there of their own accord–participation is wholly voluntary.

Leblanc is enthusiastic as he details the remaining things on his “to do” list as the deadline approaches–right down to the delivery of bedding and pillows–yet expresses frustration at the struggle of getting Woodwynn established and traditional methods of “managing” homelessness that do nothing more than hustle clients through a revolving door of dependence. “Enough is enough,” Leblanc says, describing how the therapeutic community aspect to the farm is designed to break the cycle of homelessness by removing clients from the lure of the street.

Concept hobbled by neighbours

The homeless will not be permitted to live on the farm itself, however. Thanks to Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) neighbours who feared the farm would become an institution, Central Saanich Council forbade Woodwynn Farm from having on-site accommodation — instead allowing to have workers live in nearby housing. Leblanc hopes saner heads will prevail one day and the zoning will be rectified.

Of the over 70 homeless and marginalized people who expressed interest in attending, 16 have been shortlisted and four will initially be invited. As the program ramps up, 12 people at a time will eventually be enrolled in a program of farm labour and life skills training; 500 people over the course of a decade. Victoria businessman and former Mayoral candidate Rob Reid supports Leblanc’s plan, calling it “a hand up, rather than a hand out.” Reid, who found out about the farm while researching solutions to downtown Victoria’s social ills, later became a Board member of the Creating Homefulness Society which oversees the project.

Unlike other social programs, the Woodwynn Farms project is not accepting funding from government agencies, preferring the long-term stability of private funding. Until Mothers’ Day, May 9, an anonymous benefactor is matching donations to the Woodwynn Farm project to a maximum of $150,000.

To discuss the Vantreight Farm on the discussion forum, click here. To discuss the Woodwynn Farm, click here.

Copyright © 2010 by All rights reserved.

April 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

Victoria Vice [updated]

Victoria Police and PEERS did separate canvassing to determine the number of underage sex workers on the Downtown stroll.

Two former sex-workers conducted the survey at various locations and times in the first week of September. They finished the second part of the survey last week.

“It’s been the last while that it’s really skyrocketed,” said Kelly Ransome, 32, a night outreach worker and former sexually exploited youth.

But Victoria police only found two underage youth in a three-week survey they conducted from Aug. 14 to Sept 4.

Both were between 16 and 18 years old.

The numbers don’t agree but both would concur that there are sex workers under the age of 19 working Victoria’s streets. This comes on the heels of the recent conviction of a customer who killed a Duncan-born prostitute in Vancouver. Meanwhile we seem to be no closer to improving life on the streets for sex workers. B.C. prostitutes remain prey for the disturbed, whether it be the simple-minded pig farmer or the international billionaire.

Maybe it’s time to look seriously at Victoria artist Bob Wise’s The Office: A Portable Amenity Kiosk for Female Outdoor Sex Workers.

I discussed Amsterdam’s experiment with cracking down on “vice” here.

UPDATE: Jody Paterson examines our outdated laws on prostitution in an Op-Ed piece in today’s Times Colonist.

Sex work is legal in Canada, yet everything required for a sale to take place is illegal — location, marketing, even the earnings. That renders the work just legal enough for men to be able to acquire paid sex anytime they like in any city, and just illegal enough to continue the pretense that Canadian society is hard at work trying to eradicate prostitution. What exactly IS the purpose of laws like that?
Read the research. Prostitution doesn’t increase when it’s decriminalized, because it’s already so well-entrenched in every community that there’s no increase in demand just because it’s legal. All the men who buy sex are already buying it.

October 4, 2009 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

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