Friday, October 5, 2018

Developer withdraws Northern Junk proposal at last minute

Reliance Properties has withdrawn its application to transform the Northern Junk property at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge and it won’t be considered until after the Oct. 20 municipal election.

The Vancouver-based company withdrew its rezoning application from Victoria council’s agenda at the last minute after the Downtown Residents Association sent a letter to the city criticizing the proposal.

“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. ... The western facade takes over the waterfront assertively and regrades the site.”

The association’s letter cites issues such as the height variance (almost twice what is allowed), lack of parking — the 54 underground parking stalls in the proposal are significantly fewer than requirements — and the pending sale of public land 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 letter says the decision to sell 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,” it says.

While the developer has discussed a purchase, the land is still owned by the city.

Jon Stovell, Reliance president, said given previous feedback from the community, he was at a loss to understand the views in the letter, which was sent to the city but not copied to his company.

In light of the comments, he thought it was best to re-engage with the residents’ association and possibly bring the application back to council 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.

“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.

Two warehouses that date to the 1860s, known as the Northern Junk buildings, are on the site and are to be incorporated into the project.

(An outdated artist’s rendering of Gateway, taken from an information package prepared for councillors, was published in Thursday’s edition. The latest rendering appears with this article.)

While Reliance owns the Northern Junk buildings, the city owns much of the balance of the property, some of which is identified as park land.

Mayor Lisa Helps has said she is troubled by the idea of losing park land in a downtown where open spaces are already limited.

Coun. Pam Madoff has suggested that the building is too large.

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