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Saanich building height policy allows council to consider 6- or 12-storey proposals

Interim strategy gives council more options to increase affordable housing in district
Saanich council approved an interim building height policy May 9 that allows for six- or even 12-storey development proposals to be considered under certain circumstances, where no current zoning allows for such heights. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Saanich council opened the door to increasing building heights along major corridors and designated neighbourhood areas Monday, when it approved interim policies aimed at increasing affordability in the municipality.

The first policy, crafted and recommended by the mayor’s standing committee on housing affordability and supply, requested that council be open to considering proposals for “targeted official community plan amendments in support of residential/mixed-use residential buildings of up to six storeys as an appropriate land use and building form along major corridors,” and up to 12 storeys for “purpose-built rental tenure or secured below-market units” in specific locations.

Council also unanimously approved a similar recommendation that council be open to considering six-storey proposals in neighbourhood designated areas which currently allow for four-storey developments, if they are in close proximity to transit and services.

Among the areas identified as having potential for expanded density include the Shelbourne Valley, Uptown-Douglas and villages in Cordova Bay, Cadboro Bay and Tillicum (near Burnside and Gorge roads).

An approved amendment to both motions, introduced by Coun. Rebecca Mersereau, defined “secured below-market units” for projects’ strata component as those selling for at least 20 per cent below market rates for at least 10 per cent of units, in perpetuity. Such criteria would have to be secured in a covenant.

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The initial recommendations called for at least 10 per cent of the strata units in a project (owned condominiums) to be priced “at least 10 per cent below market rates,” for “at least 10 years,” – a strategy known colloquially as 10-10-10.

Some councillors had concerns over that time frame and pricing policy, including that a 10-per-cent discount was not enough to make a significant difference for potential homebuyers, and that 10 years was too short given the scope of the housing crisis.

Mersereau, who forwarded the motions at committee, also had second thoughts at the council table. “I came away feeling the bar wasn’t high enough for the strata component,” she said. Her amendment raising the commitment level for developers was made in hopes that it would also help mitigate the risk of rental properties being converted to strata.

The interim policy is meant as a stopgap measure to allow projects that meet the district’s criteria to come forward ahead of the completion of OCP amendments currently being worked on. As Saanich does not yet have a fast-track policy for below-market housing projects as the City of Victoria recently approved, any applications that looked to take advantage of the interim policy would still have to go through the steps of the typical planning process, including full community engagement.


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