The Association held an open community meeting and panel discussion exploring densification and the potential effect on our neighbourhood the evening of Thursday, October 26, at the United Church Hall on Tyndall Ave.

The issue of affordable housing has been the topic of recent discussions in Saanich.  Provision of more affordable housing for students and young families may be achieved by densification as supported by the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, and allowing for auxiliary dwellings (garden suites, detached suites).

A panel of 5 experts convened to explore various aspects of the topic with the community, including:

real estate prices; in-fill development; student housing; bylaws; and garden suites.

GHRA President, Chris Poirier-Skelton in her welcoming remarks thanked residents for their input into assisting the GHRA and Saanich Council in planning for the future of Gordon Head. 

Don Gunn (Treasurer) introduced the panel experts:  Fred Haynes - Saanich Councillor; Anmol Swaich - Director of Campaigns and Community Relations, University of Victoria Student Society; Travis Lee -President Tri-Eagle Development Corp.; Patricia Mamic - Realtor and former GHRA Director; and

Mathew Boyd – Planning Manager, BC Transit. 

Framing the upcoming discussions, Don noted that the community is changing and there is a need to guide these changes which are influenced by the Urban Containment Boundary, planning initiatives such as Saanich’s Shelbourne Action Plan and Active Transportation planning and a shortfall of affordable housing for students and young families.

Fred Haynes outlined the need for increased densification along corridors and within village centres such as within the Shelbourne Valley, creation of adjacent housing such as garden suites, increasing the availability of safe suites, inclusive housing to ensure 10% of a development would be below market price, as well as lifting of restraints on Universities taking on debt to provide much needed student housing shifting demand from the community to campus.  It was also noted that while other communities were facing housing pressure from vacation rentals, at this time Saanich was not.  Fred emphasised the need for community participation such as upgrading the Local Area Plan to address the demand for new housing.   

From a student’s perspective, Anmol Swaich emphasised the need for additional student accommodations on campus noting that 75% of students were from outside Victoria and that rental vacancy rates were under 0.5%, cost of rental high and quality of rental accommodation off campus often low with a number of student’s sharing very limited space and limited tenancy rights.

Travis Lee -President Tri-Eagle Development Corp, emphasized that development costs were high and that many people face housing costs of ½ their income, up from 1/3 a few years ago.  He noted that to reduce vehicle dependency, housing must be close to amenities as reflected in the Shelbourne Valley Plan.  Travis emphasized the need for community, council and developers to be partners in development and to be aware of unintended consequences such as decisions that may limit suites and conversion of much needed rental units to condominiums.

From a realtors’ perspective and one who works on homelessness issues through agencies such as the Salvation Army, Patricia Mamic noted that the demographics in Gordon Head are changing with older residents wishing to downsize but still remaining in the community requiring suites, condos and small houses and young families wishing to find affordable housing which results increased density and traffic and transportation issues.  Currently it is a seller’s market with house prices increasing by 35% last year and 25% this year. 

Mathew Boyd – Planning Manager, BC Transit encouraged the community to think of transportation as a system and that good transit is borne out of good land use planning, moving destinations closer together rather than increasing the length of transit routes.

Community participants raised a number of issues such as: unreliable and small capacity transit service in Gordon Head to university results in more vehicle use; additional cost of transfers; high land costs resulting in mega houses void of yards; increased traffic in the Arbutus Finnerty area due to densification and narrowing of main arteries; increased in vehicle parking on streets and on green spaces due to increasing densification and vehicle use.

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