Victoria's Dockside Lands and Inner
Harbour are prime redevelopment locations.
and Ken Cloak
The Greater Victoria Regional District is currently experiencing
unprecedented growth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the
City of Victoria. It is predicted that by 2020, Victoria's downtown
will have a resident population of approximately 30,000 people
living within a 1.2 square mile radius of city hall. That means
an average of roughly 1,300 new residents per year for the next
It's easy to understand why this growth is happening. The combination
of unique old-world charm, a temperate climate and an established
reputation as an internationally acclaimed tourist destination,
not to mention its status as the provincial capital and the heart
of Vancouver Island's business community, all make Victoria a
location of choice.
The question now, however, is whether forces within the city
that fear movement away from the status quo will derail its healthy
evolution into a modern urban centre.
To meet growing consumer demand, developers are intermingling
a host of modern condominium projects alongside more traditional
heritage-building redevelopments. Bearing names like Corazon,
Astoria and Shoal Point, these stylish high-rises add a distinctly
modern flair to what has often been regarded as a quaint
So far, the sale of condominium projects has surpassed
even the most optimistic projections. As a result, there
are 406 condominium units under construction in the city
- nearly double the number under construction at the same time
This trend is not expected to cool in the near future. If the
development community has its way, Victoria will soon be positioned
as one of the top three residential investment locations in the
One area earmarked for redevelopment is the city-owned,
Dockside Lands. This large waterfront parcel, formerly an industrial
land site, is in desperate need of remediation and redevelopment.
Developers are submitting bids to acquire the rights to
it, and current proposals include everything from light industrial
uses to commercial enclaves and multifamily residences.
Although final development decisions have not been made,
city officials view the area as integral, the city's future
and are looking at each prospective project with due diligence.
Redevelopment is also expected in Victoria's Inner Harbour.
This high-profile area - the one most popular with tourists -
currently has more than 100 acres of underutilized land, home
to various government projects, industrial yards, parking
lots and ferry terminals.
What stands in the way, however, is a reputation that Victoria
has earned over time as a municipality that is somewhat unfriendly
The city could soon be one of the top investment spots in
the Pacific Northwest
Difficulty obtaining rezonings and permits can't be overlooked
by developers when weighing the the city against neighbouring
West Shore communities that offer more welcoming conditions.
Of particular concern is that attempts by developers to deliver
higher density housing alternatives have been met with resistance
from Victoria city council, as well as residents of affected
communities. Densification is crucial: Given current
land prices and development costs, this is the only way
many projects make economic sense to lenders, investors and the developers
themselves. Moreover, densification would also help balance growth
between Victoria and the suburbs, easing traffic congestion
and ultimately making for a more livable region.
Often, the mere mention of denser development fuels an
uproar from a vocal opposition dead-set against tall buildings
they worry will disrupt the Victoria they know and love.
But such structures, despite all the handwringing, often
result in additional green space and view-corridor opportunities.
Moreover, density does not necessarily imply height -- consideration
could also be given to more site coverage as an alternative,
if that's what the community preferred.
Unfortunately, elected officials often feel compelled to act
upon the more knee-jerk concerns. Because municipal councilors
in Greater Victoria are frequently elected with very small
pluralities, they worry about losing even a few votes within
their constituencies. The result is political stances that are
sometimes in the best interests of an individual's
short-term political fortunes, but not the city's long-term future.
To prevent this from happening, decision-makers must be
better informed and actively engaged in the development process.
Toward that end, groups such as the Downtown Victoria Community
Alliance (DVCA) have begun to work closely with civic officials
and other stakeholders to develop a vision and create a
long-term plan to help stimulate planned growth within the city's
core. The collective efforts of civic officials and these stakeholders
working together should go a long way toward improving the area's
reputation amongst members of the development community.
Laura Nastasa is director of research,
Graeme Sykes is a research assistant
and Ken Cloak is, vice president,
Victoria, of Colliers Macaulay Nicolls.
Originally founded in Vancouver,
Colliers Macaulay Nicolls is the largest
member of Boston-based Colliers
International Property Consultants.