Thursday, October 4, 2018

Council mulls plan for 8-storey building at foot of Johnson St. Bridge

Victoria councillors will decide today, amid concerns about project size, whether to send a proposed eight-storey condominium on the Northern Junk site at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge to a public hearing.

Dubbed Gateway, the condominium is a sister project to the recently renovated Janion Hotel across Johnson Street. Vancouver-based Reliance Properties is behind both projects.

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.

While the current council will decide whether to send the proposal at 1314, 1318 and 1324 Wharf St. to a public hearing — a requirement for the project to proceed — it will be a new council that decides whether to approve it, as the hearing will be held after the Oct. 20 municipal election.

The city’s heritage advisory committee came down solidly opposed, said Coun. Pam Madoff. She noted that the project, at eight storeys (reaching a height of 27.4 metres) is almost twice the allowable height under existing zoning, and more than twice the floor-space ratio for the site, much of which is designated for park. “In terms of damning with faint praise, there was one statement by staff that the application was ‘adequate’ and ‘it’s meeting the contextual criteria,’ ” Madoff said.

The design calls for the building to be stepped back above the fifth storey and extensive use of glass on the upper floors to lessen the massing impact.

Madoff said it still presents as a very large building.

“Going north along Wharf Street, you get the bridge-head view. You get the bridge. You get the public spaces that we’re going to be landscaping and animating. And when you superimpose this, it is just like a blockade,” she said

Mayor Lisa Helps said she, too, is troubled by the application, particularly a proposal that would reduce open spaces. “The most troubling part about the application for me isn’t the height. The most troubling part is being asked to remove the designation of parks and open spaces in our downtown where parks and open spaces are already limited.”

Gateway has seen several design concepts over the years. 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.

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