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Developer envisions Harris Green reinvigoration as Victoria readies debate on 1,600 rentals

Two-block housing, commercial, public space transformation set for Feb. 9 public hearing

As locals prepare to share their thoughts, the Harris Green Village proposal’s developer says the two-block transformation in the heart of Victoria will help the neighbourhood reinvigorate itself.

The Starlight Developments project will have a public hearing on Feb. 9. It looks to add almost 1,600 rental units, of which 80 would meet the city’s affordable standard, ranging from studios to three-bedroom townhomes within a boundary encompassing Yates, View, Quadra and Cook streets.

Aside from the large influx of rentals, the proposal will include a half-acre park, a daycare, community space that will be rented to the city for free, plus restaurants and commercial spaces that will hopefully retain some of the sites’ current businesses, such as Market On Yates and London Drugs.

Shauna Dudding, Starlight’s executive director of development, said bolstering the culture of Harris Green takes a diversity of land uses. With the city’s official community plan (OCP) calling for more density and greenspace in the area, Starlight saw it as an underutilized spot that would lend well to growth.

The new park space will be privately maintained but will be for the public. Dudding said they want to work with the city to program community and cultural events there – filled with food vendors, music and arts – while it will also have an all-abilities play spot for kids.

“I think that community culture will be created with a common sense of purpose amongst everyone and it will restore the vibrancy of Harris Green, restore the vibrancy of that neighbourhood park space, it will restore the vibrancy of an activated, walkable retail space.”

A rendering of a dog park and play area in the public park envisioned in Starlight Developments' Harris Green Village redevelopment. (Courtesy of Starlight Developments)

With a still too-low 1.5 per cent vacancy rate and much of Victoria’s rental stock being built before 2000, Dudding said their range of unit size will accommodate young professionals, health-care and other in-demand workers, plus the city’s overall expected population rise.

“We need to be well positioned as a community to house these people in a walkable and livable community. So we’re going to help to support that market, support those employees that are coming to invigorate and continue to energize the local economy.”

The proposal would also be a huge investment in the city, Dudding said, pointing to the secure rental housing, the 450 jobs it will spur during construction and the $36 million Starlight predicts tenants will spend at local shops and restaurants annually.

The biggest worries Starlight has heard are around parking, height and density. While some want more on-site parking and others want less, Dudding said a huge draw was Harris Green being a walkable community that will help lower residents’ reliance on vehicles. But spaces are still being included as the company understands some will still need their cars.

The development’s towers would max out at 32 storeys on the west block and 21 on the east block, which would see the first of three construction phases.

The project looked at various designs before landing on building up to five-storey podiums below towers in order to break up the massing at the street. The design’s taller, narrower towers on those podiums were chosen to accommodate the needed square footage and ensure maximum light would shine on adjacent buildings, the street and onto the proposed public plazas.

A rendering of the 1045 Yates Street property envisioned in the Harris Green Village redevelopment. (Courtesy of Starlight Developments)

The Victoria Downtown Residents Association supports increasing housing density in Harris Green but said it will be on council to ensure the needs of both the thousands of new residents and the wider community are met.

“We would prefer that the project stay within the OCP unless there’s a valid reason it needs to have increased density,” said Sandra Severs, VDRA president.

The residents association has called for more community benefits if the developer receives its requested variances. Among those are a larger share of affordable units and more public outdoor spaces that aren’t tied to businesses.

“It’s a big project in the context of a larger neighbourhood and what happens here has an impact on that larger neighbourhood,” Severs said.

“I think we can have both increased density and urban livability.”

READ: Unaffordability, turnover price hikes dampen Greater Victoria’s record rentals year: CMHC

READ: Victoria’s next council to decide Harris Green Village proposal’s future Follow us on Instagram.
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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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