New beginning for Dockside Green project in Vic West
By Andrew Duffy, Times Colonist, Published January 29, 2017
Stalled for six years and subject to rumour and speculation ever since, Dockside Green got new life and a sense of certainty on Thursday night when Victoria city council voted to approve rezoning for the 15-acre site.
The approval signals a fresh start and a new lease on life for the massive project, which started life in 2005 with great promise and plaudits for its commitment to establishing a greener and more sustainable community, but hit a development wall after the global financial crisis of 2008.
Now, with a new master plan that provides for as many as 12 new buildings — the first of which could break ground as early as next year — Dockside is looking at a new design and a new way of doing business.
“What I thought was best for the project was for us to move into a neighbourhood developer role. We would continue to provide the amenities, streets and infrastructure, but partner through [land] sales and partnerships with third-party builders,” said Dockside’s chief executive, Norm Shearing.
Dockside, which is owned by Vancity Credit Union, had a bit of a dry run in that role last summer when it made an agreement with Vancouver’s Catalyst Community Developments Society to build the Madrona complex. When crews started moving rock last June for the $9-million project — 49 units of affordable housing spread across two rental buildings — it marked the first time in six years that there had been building on the site.
At the time, Shearing said he was thrilled to see action in the area. With a new mandate in hand, he has promised Madrona would be just the tip of the iceberg. He said Dockside has spent the past 2 1/2 years meeting community members on more than 20 occasions to shape a new vision for the site.
The new plan, which will be built with Dockside’s LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) Platinum community program in mind, will include commercial and residential buildings, more park area than the first version, a kids’ play area, dog park, a park to replace a previously planned traffic circle and a retail centre with grocery store.
There is space for such things as a brewery, distillery, liquor store, kindergarten, parks, seniors’ assisted and independent housing, and a cultural facility spread across buildings between the Johnson and Bay street bridges.
And unlike previous plans for Dockside, Shearing said they have sized the buildings to suit the market.
“One of the challenges we faced was the original building design on site was for 200,000-plus square feet. That is big for the Victoria market,” he said, noting it meant it was hard to get financing and pre-sales. “The density of those buildings needed to be redistributed over the site and that gives us buildings that are 65,000 to 130,000 square feet with between 65 and 130 units in them.
“That’s much more in keeping with the Victoria market, and by doing that it allows the project to move forward more seamlessly.”
Dockside’s director of development, Ally Dewji, said approval of the new plan sets the stage and parameters for the overall neighbourhood, which could speed up the next phase of development.
“This will set up neighbourhood context, height, density, amenities — all standards the city will measure each development application against,” he said. “Each building partner will come forward and present what their building will look like and that will be measured against the master plan.”
It means all amenities are worked out ahead of time, and are tied to each building. And there is an emphasis on open space.
“Having expanded common areas are the new drivers of this; they are really important,” he said. “They are a main driver in terms of the characteristics for this project.”
That means more attention to parks, gateways and sightlines, which has been made possible by the redistribution of density around the project, Shearing said.
To this point, Dockside has developed about 300,000 square feet of space, in which there are 266 residential units and about 500 residents; that’s about 22 per cent of the total expected density.
The new plan calls for another one million square feet of development and 1,000 residential units, but this time the units will be in buildings that go up rather than spread out.
The new plan does not increase the height of the site’s tallest building, which will remain at 20 storeys, but will see increases in the heights of several other buildings, to between 12 and 18 storeys.
“The tower forms and neighbourhood composition is really what has changed,” said Dewji, noting residential is now placed along the west border of the site along Tyee Road, while public space is oriented toward the industrial edge of the site along Harbour Road near Point Hope Shipyard.
Also promised is a mix of residential that will include seniors’ housing, rental units, condominiums and affordable housing.
That’s why the Madrona project is important, Shearing said. “We wanted to lead with it to show we were dedicated to getting this project completed, and it shows the DNA of Dockside,” he said. “It’s a neighbourhood for a broad mix of housing types … that makes for a healthy community.”
That mix and the addition of more space and common area are also part of creating a more environmentally friendly community, Shearing said. “The conversations around sustainability have moved to the social — the importance of people being able to connect and have a positive experience outside of their home in the public realm.”
The next step will be to establish a partnership with a builder for the next residential buildings. Shearing said they have been holding off on serious discussions until the city’s approval was finalized, but have had plenty of interest. Although work is expected to start soon on a commercial building along Harbour Road, the Dockside planners anticipate their next residential development will start to the south of the existing residential complexes on Tyee Road in the next year. Excavation for parking had already been completed on those sites before 2008.
Dockside expects full buildout of the project, originally expected in 2014, to take another 10 to 11 years. But the market will ultimately dictate the timeline, Shearing said.
“We have worked hard with the community to deliver a plan that we think is relevant and addresses the shortcomings of the original plan,” said Shearing.