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North Park wants a community centre, just not on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue

Neighbourhood associations push back on plans for a community centre in Pandora Avenue housing development

By Michael John Lo
February 15, 2023
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

North Park wants a community centre, just not on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue

Neighbourhood associations push back on plans for a community centre in Pandora Avenue housing development

By Michael John Lo
Feb 15, 2023
A pedestrian walks beside the boarded up building currently located at 926 and 930 Pandora Avenue. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
A pedestrian walks beside the boarded up building currently located at 926 and 930 Pandora Avenue. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

North Park wants a community centre, just not on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue

Neighbourhood associations push back on plans for a community centre in Pandora Avenue housing development

By Michael John Lo
February 15, 2023
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North Park wants a community centre, just not on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue
A pedestrian walks beside the boarded up building currently located at 926 and 930 Pandora Avenue. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

A proposed 20-storey affordable housing project on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue was also meant to bring a long-awaited community centre to North Park and Downtown residents.

But in a letter sent to council last week, the North Park Neighbourhood Association (NPNA) said  it  no longer supports the idea of a community centre at 926 and 930 Pandora Avenue and is asking for the city to not refer to the ground-floor space as a community centre in its development proposal with BC Housing.

In the same letter, NPNA called for the city to designate Pandora Avenue’s 900 block as a “special improvement area,” and take “tangible steps to improve safety and well-being” there. Pandora’s 900 block has a high concentration of supportive housing and social services for those experiencing poverty and substance use.

“The use of this space was decided by Council, not the community,” said the letter. “It is misleading for the city to suggest that the space become a “Community Centre” when it does not meet the needs and desires of the neighbourhood.”

NPNA Executive Director Sarah Murray told Capital Daily that the neighbourhood association is “keen for a community centre.”

“But we also think right now that the Pandora [900] block needs more focus on improving the health and well-being of the people who need it the most,” she said.

The association previously suggested several other locations for a community centre and childcare space within North Park, including the Crystal Pool, Royal Athletic Park, and  two locations currently being used for open-air parking.

Former mayor Lisa Helps said that building a community centre at 926 and 930 Pandora Avenue would help revitalize the area and was one of the main reasons for the land purchase, according to a 2021 article in the Times Colonist.

The proposed community centre—meant to be run jointly by the NPNA and the Downtown Residents Association—would have 36 child-care spaces as well as a gym. Currently both neighbourhoods are without community centres.

The NPNA no longer sees the location as a viable space, Murray said, adding that staffing concerns and the complexity of the issues in the area would make it difficult to run a successful community centre.

“A lot of people avoid that area because they do have feelings of unsafety,” Murray said.

“We don’t foresee seniors being comfortable going there for senior yoga, [as well as] parent-and-tot groups,” Murray added. “If we can’t have those really basic community centre amenities, it’s not the right space.”

The two neighbourhood associations had spent six months looking at options, and visiting other community centres—both in Greater Victoria and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—to get a sense of what was possible.

“We had a bit of an idea of how it could possibly work,” said Murray. “But by the time the city had approached us, a lot of things had already been pretty set in stone.”

The high-density zoned lot was purchased by the City of Victoria in April 2020 for $9.6 million from a local developer, in part to build affordable housing on a largely derelict property lot. The proposed 20-storey rental building is a partnership between the City of Victoria, BC Housing, and Capital Region Housing Corporation, and is expected to open in 2028.

The 205 affordable rental units in that proposal would be operated by the Capital Region Housing Corporation, and include 47 supportive homes, which come with life skills training, employment help, and 24/7 outreach worker support, according to BC Housing’s website.

The housing project is the first proposal to go through Victoria’s Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing initiative, meant to speed up affordable housing projects that align with the Official Community Plan. Under the new bylaw, approved non-market housing developments can bypass rezoning and public hearing processes, shaving up to nine months off project timelines.

Murray would like to see Pandora Avenue become a safe, welcoming place for all.

“We understand that a lot of the things that impact the wellbeing for folks on the 900-block are outside of municipal jurisdiction, like homelessness, mental health, and substance use support,” she said. “This area needs more attention. It needs a different approach than some of the other areas in our city.”

Victoria City Council has yet to respond to the NPNA’s letter.

With files from Jolene Rudisuela

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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