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City moves motel's conversion to affordable housing a step forward

Mar 02 2012

Criticized five months ago as "substandard housing," a slightly modified proposal from a private developer to convert a former Traveller's Inn into small rental units sailed through a Victoria council committee Thursday.

Last October, developer Mike Kelly called Victoria council hypocritical when his proposal to convert a former Traveller's Inn at 3025 Douglas St. into 45 rental units stalled. All the while, the city moved ahead with its own plans to convert a Traveller's at 710 Queens Rd. - Queens Manor - into 36 units of low-income housing for the hard-to-house.

Kelly was outraged that councillors thought it was OK to spend $5.6 million in public money to buy two Traveller's (710 Queens and 120 Gorge Rd.) and then plow in another $2 million in renovations to take only 36 people off the street, but they rejected his plan to provide 45 units of affordable housing at no cost to the taxpayer.

Kelly's modified plan put to the planning and land use committee reduced the number of units in the conversion to 42 from 45 and reconfigured 13 of the smallest units. The units now range in size from 254 sq. ft. to 445 sq. ft., up from between 235.7 sq. ft. and 254 sq. ft.

The new plan received unanimous support from the committee to go to public hearing, despite staff recommending against approval.

The approval was an aboutface for committee chairwoman Coun. Marianne Alto, who said her original objection was based on the units being promoted as "affordable," when she did not believe they were.

Alto was pleased that there is now a range of sizes and that plans call for a manager's unit.

"It seem to me he did hear the concerns of many of the councillors of the time that there needed to be the option for diversity in the population, which is why he made some of the units able to have two or three people," Alto said.

"He heard some of the concerns around greenspace and heard some of the concerns around the ability to have bike parking.

"Really, his efforts to accommodate the legitimate concerns of council should be rewarded."

Kelly plans to rent out the bachelor units for $700, including all utilities, cable and Internet. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average base rent for a bachelor unit in Victoria last year was $679.

Coun. Pam Madoff said, should the project go ahead, it would be incumbent on council to determine the proposed management model. She said she was heartened to see a manager's unit in the plans.

"My concern is based on past experience of seeing the transient-use hotels converted to permanent housing," Madoff said.

"We've seen some that have been very successful and we've seen some that unfortunately have been absolutely disastrous, with everything from killings and fires and all sorts of things," Madoff said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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