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Mixed use plan for former Central Saanich church site

An artist rendering of the old church site in Brentwood Bay. - Contributed
An artist rendering of the old church site in Brentwood Bay.
— image credit: Contributed

The District of Central Saanich is discussing the potential of a mixed use residential and live/work development at the property of the old United Church site in Brentwood Bay.

The proposal includes a condominium of 30, one and two bedroom homes and four flexible spaces for working and/or living.

What was once Brentwood Bay United Church in the middle of Brentwood Village is now being eyed for a zoning amendment and development variance permit.

“What we’ve typically seen in the past is ground floor commercial. They’re proposing a live/work unit on the ground floor ….” said Bruce Greig, the District’s planner.

Grant Rogers of the Marker Group said they’re attempting to create a residential and commercial development, addressing the current and future needs in the community, while also being mindful of Brentwood Bay’s aesthetic.

“When we look at goals for responsible development, this is what we targeted. We wanted to provide homes for local residents that would like to downsize within their community,” said Rogers, adding they wanted to be sensitive to the neighbourhood and the environment, promoting walking and biking with less commuting.

He said they wanted to maximize the value of the commercial space by offering new opportunities to small business owners that is affordable and desirable in the current and future market.

“We did not want to add to the vacancy rate.”

They are proposing to amend the ground floor zone to the live/work to create value, as commercial space in Brentwood, he said, is more costly to build than it has value commercially.

Included in the project budget is the District’s new DCC policy, which would add $75,000 in fees.

Rogers said they’ve also reinvested into the building’s look.

Approximately $120,000 from Marker Group’s savings will go into the upgrade of the exterior, with high grade, high quality finishing to be expected.

Councillors weighed in with some of their comments and concerns, a big one being the issue of affordability.

“What I’m trying to understand is what’s being proposed is $68,000 for affordable housing, and so none of the units would be available under covenant for low to moderate income,” said Councillor Alicia Holman.

She said the $68,000 doesn’t go very far in terms of the District’s ability to turn that into housing, whether that’s land or building.

She said she’s trying to represent and speak for families at risk of homelessness.

“I need those people represented and I’m wondering how this proposal can do that…” she posed, asking if there’s some room in the proposal to increase the amenity to provide some of the lower cost units.

Rogers reply was that it’s very difficult.

“The first thing I’ll say is inexpensive housing on unbelievably expensive land is a non-starter,” he said.

“This particular development is right in the centre of town and I would argue that both in a strata building and in the centre of town, there’s just no feasible way for us to make 10 per cent of the units operating as lower cost housing or attainable housing.”

Coun. Zeb King said there are other projects that have found a way to make their projects affordable, and was surprised that the proponent couldn’t do the same.

“I totally agree that we wouldn’t necessarily want all the units to be affordable housing, but what we were talking about is potentially one more or the 28 per cent increase in density…” said King.

The District will direct staff to prepare bylaws to enable the project to proceed, which still needs to be ratified at next week’s regular council meeting.

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