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Planned development at foot of Johnson Street Bridge on hold

Dec 16 2011

A proposal to build a $25-million, five-storey commercial/condominium project at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge stalled Thursday when Victoria councillors clashed over the scope of the project and how much public land should be involved.

After a lengthy debate, councillors postponed further consideration of the application until they see a drawing of what the project will look like in relation to the new bridge approaches.

"There will also be a larger consideration of whether the city wants to allow the developer to provide a design that considers [using] the city land," Mayor Dean Fortin said.

Reliance Properties Ltd. of Vancouver is proposing the waterfront development, which includes redevelopment of the long-derelict Wharf Street Northern Junk buildings, built in the 1860s.

Most of the proposed new construction wraps around the heritage buildings on a crescent shaped parcel of land that is currently a city-owned boulevard and parking lot. The land is considered surplus to city needs for the replacement of the bridge.

The previous council decided to entertain its use for development to encourage rehabilitation of the Northern Junk buildings and development of public amenities.

Reliance proposed building 56 residential units over the top of street-level commercial on the city-owned parcel. The development plan includes a waterfront public plaza with a stairway suitable for seating to provide access to the existing marina. A new public connection to the Victoria Harbour Pathway is also planned.

The two heritage buildings were to be rehabilitated and connected with a glass atrium.

Newly-elected Coun. Ben Isitt opposed further consideration of the project, saying it's already eaten up too much of the city's planning resources. "I think our council has been saddled with a poor decision by the previous council to allow the developer to entertain the idea that this public land could be available," Isitt said.

Coun. Geoff Young said he wanted to see what the development would look like in the context of the new bridge approaches. He said the city-owned property considered for redevelopment is a leftover from a past redesign of the bridge approaches to better move vehicles when that was the priority.

"It was not something planned in order to create greenspace," Young said.

Coun. Pam Madoff spoke against the proposal. She said if the city reduced the allowable building footprint on its land, it would probably receive an application more in keeping with the scale and form of the Old Town.

"Old-town buildings are long and narrow, they don't wrap around," Madoff said. "That doesn't mean this site can't be developed, but I think it needs to be developed in a way that strengthens that geometry."


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