Central Saanich debates development’s few affordable units

Central Saanich is considering its options on ensuring there will be long-term affordable housing in a proposed development.

Central Saanich is considering its options on ensuring there will be long-term affordable housing in a proposed development.

This week, District council debated a 10-year time frame on eight affordable rental units planned at the former Marigold Nurseries site on Lochside Drive. Some are asking if they can not only guarantee those 10 years— but also keep the units affordable for a longer period of time.

Marigold Lands has applied to the District to rezone the property so they can build 233 homes — 30 of which are rental apartments and eight of those deemed affordable.

The District is in the process of approving bylaws to amend its official community plan (OCP), create a new building zone to accommodate the request and work with the developer to allow the property to be built in phases.

In July, council passed several motions, including advancing the proposed re-development of the former nursery site as a multi-family development with several components of neighbourhood.

Marigold Lands is proposing a mix of mostly multi-family housing, including apartment buildings, townhouses and duplexes along with a commercial component and dedicated public park land.

The phased development agreement would lock the zoning in for 10 years.

District Planner Bruce Greig said if things are built up front and some future council wanted to rezone or downzone, they are somewhat protected.

“Typically today’s council cannot fetter the decisions of a future council. This is an exception,” said Greig.

The other part of the phased development agreement is that it also locks in the developer. It defines what things the developer has committed to deliver to the municipality and the public. It lays out things like timing and specifics, along with the timing of park construction to municipal standards.

The agreement also lays out developer contributions to transit, pedestrian and cycling improvements.

Of the proposed 233 units, Marigold Lands is committing to having at least 30 of them as rental apartments. Within that, they are committing at least eight units to restrict through a housing agreement, which would see them at below market rental rates for 10 years.

Councillor Alicia Holman questioned whether that met the District’s policy on affordable housing.

“Affordable housing after 10 years would go away after this proposal and eight of 233 units is 2.5 per cent,” she said. “The 13 per cent, or the 30 units that are being proposed, are strictly rental which are great but rental does not meet the definition of affordable housing under (policy).”

Greig said the OCP policy encourages 10 per cent affordable housing to be a part of applications. The housing agreement will ensure that those units aren’t stratified and sold.

Mayor Ryan Windsor had concerns with affordability in relation to this project.

“What is of some concern to me as we move forward is the idea that after 10 years, units that were [placed under a restrictive covenant] to be affordable suddenly are returned to the general market pool.”

Marigold Lands developer Tim Hackett said the District has a second option: accept a cash contribution up front — $135,000 in this case — to the municipality’s affordable housing reserve fund.

“It allows you to have the funds now and be assured that you’ve got them and that it can be put towards affordable housing,” he said.

“It seems like $135,000 in my opinion would not be worth as much as completing those units, because the district isn’t really in the business of building units,” said Coun. Zeb King. “And turning it into trying to build some housing probably wouldn’t get very far. So I think we’d be better off having the units built than collecting the money.”

Hackett also mentioned the need for workforce housing.

“There are a number of people that don’t live in this community only because they can’t afford to live here but they work here so they drive in every day from the city or Colwood,” he said, adding their proposal is an ideal location for smaller and affordable units.

Also in the proposal is the dedication of land for a natural play park.

Marigold Lands planner Joaquin Karakas said one of the reasons for the natural park concept is that kids are simply liking them more.

“Spaces that aren’t so programmed and predictable are actually spaces that are healthy for children and help them thrive and learn,” he said.

Further discussion will take place about the potential for playground equipment to be included within the proposal.

The OCP and bylaw amendments will be considered by council on Dec. 5 and possibly referred to a public hearing.

They are also looking to hear more information before deciding whether to ask for amendments to the phased development agreement.

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