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Letter to Council Re: 1025‐1031 Johnson St. and 1050 Yates St – New Fire Hall ‐ Rezoning and OCP Ame

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

November 22, 2018

Re: 1025‐1031 Johnson St. and 1050 Yates St – New Fire Hall ‐ Rezoning and OCP Amendment

Dear Mayor Helps and Council,

The DRA LUC hosted a CALUC meeting on 31 July 2018 for the above‐mentioned application. 93 members of the public attended the meeting. Correspondence has also been received from the public regarding this application.

Based on the information presented by the applicant, the purpose of this application is to rezone a total of 7200m2 of lands bounded by Johnson, Cook and Yates Streets to allow a mixed use development of 12 to 17 storey buildings with a proposed overall density of 6.8:1. As the proposed density exceeds the OCP designation for the local area of 5.5:1, an amendment to the OCP is also required.

The first phase of the proposed development covers approximately 30% of the site and includes facilities for a new municipal Fire Hall with emergency bays and above those, office space and an affordable housing component administered by Pacifica Housing. The site is currently split zoned with 43% of the site zoned R‐48 and the balance zoned S‐1. The applicant presented an argument that a theoretical zoning entitlement existed for the R‐48 lands for a density of 8.8:1, and that due to the structural constraints of the Fire Hall any unrealizable density on the R‐48 portion of the property would be transferred to the S‐1 lands and be applied in addition to the maximum OCP designation of 5.5:1 creating an average for the entire site of 6.8:1.

The DRA has obtained through an FOI request a heavily redacted copy of the contract between the applicant and the City of Victoria for the construction of the fire hall. This contract shows that Council has agreed prior to any public engagement to terms that require rezoning approval to include the densities in significant excess of the OCP maximums for properties outside the scope of the actual fire hall building.

Comments and concerns expressed at the public meeting include:

  1. Several concerns were expressed regarding providing institutional uses allowable under the proposed zoning; including Homeless Shelters, Shooting Galleries, Needle Exchanges, Drug and Alcohol Treatment or prisons. It was questioned why an institutional use will be applied to the entire site. Guarantees were requested that rezoning for institutional uses be restricted to only the Fire Hall portion of the site. The applicant represented that in order to accommodate the Fire Hall the entire site had to be rezoned to include institutional use.

  2. There were concerns expressed by a great many attendees regarding the impacts on livability caused by the excessive construction noise that will be produced by this site over a period of many years (and other sites in Harris Green) and the continuing disregard of the Noise Bylaw by contractors and lack of response by Bylaw Enforcement or adequate penalties to dissuade such activities.

  3. The potential for noise from the emergency vehicles themselves and why the Fire Hall would be located in the most densely populated neighbourhood of the City were also common concerns.

  4. The lack of open or green space was a recurring concern mentioned by several attendees with general consensus from the room. The excess density, the massive nature of the proposed zero setback street wall and the apparent lack of planning or commitment for the future phases were common themes.

  5. There have been no amenities provided to the Harris Green neighbourhood with the massive amount of development approved to date and there appears to be little amenity value provided by this development apart from the possibility of including a pocket park somewhere within the 7200m2 property.

  6. Concerns expressed regarding the height of the proposed building and the blockage of light by the proposal on adjacent existing buildings. The applicant did not provide a shadow study at the CALUC meeting.

  7. It was confirmed by Planning Staff that the transfer of theoretical density entitlements from anR‐48 zone to another separate parcel was unprecedented.

  8. Concerns were expressed whether it was appropriate to house children above a Fire Hall Midblock crosswalks have caused serious problems with antisocial behaviour and public safety with no support from the police. There were concerns how a midblock walkway would be designed and managed on this site.

  9. There were concerns expressed regarding the Planning Department entertaining a theoretical density for the R‐48 lands calculated at 8.8:1 when there is no built example of this being achieved over FSR 5:1 within the 10 storey limit of that zone.

A more comprehensive record of comments raised by the public at the CALUC meeting is included in the attached Minutes. While members of the public expressed appreciation for the services that Pacifica Housing provides to the city, no member of the public spoke out in favour of the proposal at the public meeting. Two emails were received by the DRA after the CALUC meeting from members of the business community expressing support for the proposal.

Review and response to the application by Land Use Committee Members:

  1. Was Council aware of the Contract Requirements for excessive density? Council has entered into a contract for the Fire Hall that included, as part of the contract, Council approval of density entitlements significantly in excess of the current OCP maximums on lands that have no direct association or need for approval concurrently with the Fire Hall site. This Council decision was made in camera and calls into question whether Council was aware of all the facts at the time. The applicant has continually resisted any attempt to sequester the Fire Hall site from the rest of the application and Council appears now bound by the terms of the contract which includes approval of this rezoning for the entirety of the 7200m2 lands. This is cause for significant concern.

  2. R‐48 Zone‐“Theoretical Density”. The R‐48 Zone was originally created as a City‐led initiative to incentivize downtown residential development in the 1990s which gifted extremely generous entitlements for density to all parking lot owners in Harris Green at the time. This has since become a windfall for the property owners who contributed nothing to the community in exchange. The R‐48 Zone was poorly written and recent changes to the DCAP height guidelines has been exploited by applicants by promoting the concept of “theoretical density entitlement calculations” under “as‐of‐right” Development Permit with Variance applications. This simple process then allows buildings to be constructed that far exceed the original intent of the bylaw and the density limits currently set by the OCP as‐of‐right. In this case, the applicant has calculated an extraordinary “theoretical density entitlement” of 8.8:1 on its R‐48 zoned portion of the property and approval by Council of this unchallenged density calculation forms nonnegotiable terms of the contract for the Fire Hall. A historical inventory conducted by the DRA of built examples of R‐48 properties clearly shows that no buildings have been constructed at densities over 5:1 when the 10 storey height limit in the bylaw was respected. Consideration by staff and Council of these “theoretical” densities makes a mockery of the OCP and the R‐48 bylaws original intent.

  3. No Legal Right to Transfer Density Entitlements to a different property. Regardless of the argument of the amount of density the applicant perceives they are entitled to, it is a fact that the density entitlement for the R‐48 lands applies only to the property that carries that zoning and is not legally “transferable”. While Council may have the discretion to allow this density transfer to take place, it will be unprecedented and we suggest that it would be highly inappropriate to do so.

  4. Rezoning the entire site vs Fire Hall alone. The applicant stated at the public meeting that the entire site has to be rezoned as one because the lands contain many parcels and a portion of the Fire Hall straddles the existing parcel and zoning boundaries and so the institutional use would be required to cover the entire site. This is simply not true, as nothing prohibits the Fire Hall site and the corresponding institutional use be rezoned in isolation. The only purpose for rezoning the entire site is to facilitate the transfer of unsubstantiated density rights from the Fire Hall site to a completely separate property that currently has no such rights.

  5. R‐48 Change of use precludes existing zoning entitlements. The applicant is seeking a different use for this project and is rezoning to a different zone from R‐48. The applicant has no legal “right” to carry forward density entitlements permitted by the current R‐48 zone when it aspires to add an additional use necessitating a rezoning. DCAP also reiterates the reality of “use it or lose it” in section 4.17 stating that this property will now be subject to provisions of the density bonus system “as the property owner seeks to rezone the property to a different zone”.

  6. Density inappropriate for the Local Area. In terms of scale, the application is 36% more dense (larger) than 1515 Douglas Street (at FSR 5:1) located right across from City Hall or the Hudson District (FSR 5.1:1). The proposed density of 6.8:1 across the site is also misleading. Due to the post‐disaster restrictions on the Fire Hall, the remaining two thirds of the site fronting Cook and Yates Street will actually be built to a density of approximately 7.3:1; which is very unlikely to be. achieved within the 15 and 17 storey heights referenced. Other sites of this density such as “Yates on Yates” or the “Hudson Place 1” required heights in excess of 20 stories to achieve these densities.

  7. Pre‐zoning in advance of a Complete Design. The applicant has represented that this is a “Master Planned Development” but has produced little planning for the two thirds of the site that would receive a massive density entitlement almost 50% greater than the current (and already generous) OCP maximums. The lack of corresponding development permit drawings to confirm that construction of the project is even possible as it is pictured by this proposal is problematic. The densities included in this application may well require over 20 stories to be realized and will likely be obtained under “as‐of‐right” applications in the future. A process that grants a rezoning without corresponding fully‐vetted development permitting plans should not be entertained by Council for any application.

  8. Noise and Livability. The placement of a Fire Hall and the corresponding disruption of the densest residential neighbourhood in the city when alternatives exist elsewhere appear counterintuitive. The addition of the Ambulance Emergency Bays will severely compound this issue; substantially increasing the frequency of nuisance noise that will be caused by such a concentration of emergency vehicles in this dense residential neighbourhood.

  9. DCAP Design Guidelines Significantly Exceeded on Fire Hall Building. The maximum floor plate sizes in the upper stories prescribed by DCAP in Appendix 6 appear to be significantly exceeded. Floor plate dimensions for the Fire Hall building appear very similar to those of View Towers. The result is a building much too massive in its upper portions presenting a monolith to its several immediate neighbours to the north. Floor plate limits appear to be exceeded by approximately 30% between the 20m to 30m height (Floors 6, 7, 8) and by over 80% over the 30m height (floors 9, 10, 11). Side yard setback requirements appear to have also not been met. Minimum clearances of 6.0m to property lines at above 30m height have been reduced by over 50%. There are no guarantees that buildings shown in massing diagrams for other areas of the site comply with DCAP. It is essential that all applicants comply with DCAP Design Guidelines, especially when the City itself is a conflicted participant.

  10. CACs. Rezoning this huge property at this time will also allow the applicant to avoid reasonable Community Amenity Contributions. The current CAC structure is under review and will likely yield significantly higher contribution levels for amenities. Approval of the entire site now will forgo all but a pittance.

  11. OCP. The DRA has a policy not to support OCP amendments without a compelling rationale to do so. There appears no evidence (let alone compelling) to support this application under the proposed density and use.

The provision of a post‐disaster Fire Hall and a modicum of affordable housing at a fixed cost is

indisputably a desirable outcome. This aspect is being well promoted by the applicant; in what appears to be an expertly orchestrated strategy to leverage approval to gain a windfall density entitlement on the remaining two‐thirds of the site.

Closer examination reveals this is not an exchange of equal value for the public. The City is a conflicted partner in this development and Council needs to recognize it is afoul of its own commitment to transparency and public process and its ethical obligation to support and respect its own foundational planning documents. The signing of the contract for this Fire Hall was made by the previous Council without any public knowledge or assent and has locked the City into terms that are highly questionable. The public is invited to participate as an afterthought but is told that the deal has been struck; it’s this or nothing. But we propose this is a false choice and that this application is not the only way forward.

We ask our new Council to consider themselves not bound by the terms of this contract as written. There are many bad precedents that we would like to avoid setting here, but the main one is, regardless of motivation, that we must not find ourselves corrupting the planning and approval process to the detriment of the public, especially when we need a public building constructed.

Sincerely, Ian Sutherland Chair, Land Use Committee Downtown Residents Association

Click below to download and read the PDF Copy (includes CALUC meeting minutes)

Download PDF • 220KB

Subsequent to this letter, the DRA requested and obtained through an FOI, a heavily redacted copy of the contract between the City and developer to build the Firehall.

Click below to download and read the contract

Firehall Contract Redacted records
Download PDF • 21.83MB

It shows if Council wants to proceed with its Firehall, it must approve a rezoning and an OCP amendment for the entire project at these non-negotiable densities, even though the Fire Hall is just a tiny part of the overall scheme. Affordable housing is offered as justification for the extra density but the amount of affordable housing on offer already a requirement of all condominium rezonings.

This contract was negotiated in private before any public consultation took place and the commitments made in the Firehall contract tying it to the approval of the entire development were kept from the public until the FOI request. Council insists it can maintain an open mind on this application but is now looking more like a conflicted partner in this OCP busting development, not an impartial adjudicator!

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