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Parks, arts, housing—and maybe even light rail: Victoria councillors say city is eyeing big, sustainable moves

Couns. Dell and Caradonna say ‘bold plans’ and a vibrant vision are just the beginning

City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Parks, arts, housing—and maybe even light rail: Victoria councillors say city is eyeing big, sustainable moves

Couns. Dell and Caradonna say ‘bold plans’ and a vibrant vision are just the beginning

Victoria City Hall: City of Victoria
Victoria City Hall: City of Victoria
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Parks, arts, housing—and maybe even light rail: Victoria councillors say city is eyeing big, sustainable moves

Couns. Dell and Caradonna say ‘bold plans’ and a vibrant vision are just the beginning

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Parks, arts, housing—and maybe even light rail: Victoria councillors say city is eyeing big, sustainable moves
Victoria City Hall: City of Victoria

A culturally vibrant, green, compassionate, and trailblazing city. That’s the vision Matt Dell and Jeremy Caradonna, two sophomore city councilors have for Victoria. They hold a great deal of optimism for Victoria’s future but their optimism banks on resources and consensus from council and the CRD. The two sat down with Capital Daily to talk about what the council did in 2023 and what it hopes to do in 2024 and beyond. 

Victoria has often been painted as a picturesque, but sleepy outpost whose temperament can be taciturn, especially when it comes to big change. Despite or in part because of that same reputation, Victoria was ranked No.1 by the Globe and Mail as Canada’s most liveable city and rated the best small city in the world by the prestigious tourism magazine Conde Nast Traveler.

Unprecedented turnover on city council after the last municipal election certainly meant big change. Council went into the year with seven new members who each brought their own passions, interests and insights to the issues of the day. Caradonna describes his colleagues as “people who are optimistic, enthusiastic and have a new vision” and who are “getting things done.” The pair broke down the council's recent achievements and vision into four themes; housing, parks and recreation, arts and culture, and the environment.

Housing: Expect more building, and more public projects

Both agree, in terms of housing breakthroughs, that passing its Missing Middle housing policy was council’s crowning achievement as it relates to getting more people into homes. However, staff reporting to council in September reveals a laggardly start to the initiative, “having received only three delegated development permit applications under the new regulations” and that “feedback received through pre-application conversations” pointed to regulations (such as setbacks, heritage conserving infill and density requirements) being “too prescriptive and onerous in their aim to address many [developer] objectives, some of which are competing.”

Still, overall future housing has been increasing. Since the province set and delivered its housing quotas for 10 BC municipalities last fall, Victoria has approved 3,800 units—a record-smashing number. But the majority of those were in downtown buildings, not in low-rise multli-plexes, townhouses, or duplexes. The provincial target for the city was 4,902 over five years. If the proposed Bayview Place and Harris Green developments pass the political muster, council will be well beyond the province’s quota early on in the policy’s mandate in overall numbers, but not in the types of units the missing middle policy was meant to produce. In a kind of admission of the lag, Caradonna cautioned “That’s not to say that all projects that are passed by council get built.”

And of course, there's the tax

The other expected boost to housing in Victoria was council approval of the revitalizing tax exemption (RTE) which gives developers a 10-year reduction on property taxes. And while it doesn’t make older property taxes go away, it provides significant economic incentive to developers to initiate and complete projects. “We currently have an alternative approvals process (AAP) going on right now and a referendum to borrow $85 million to build more affordable housing. We're going to try to double our portfolio and get matched funds from senior levels of government to do it.” 

An AAP allows the CRD board to adopt a bylaw if fewer than 10% of electors submit a signed Elector Response form, indicating the need for a referendum. Under an AAP, debt on that $85M will not be incurred until specific project opportunities are identified and approved through the regular CRD budget process.

The jury on this will be time, approvals and results.

Parks: Expect more green space, less controversy

New parks and park revitalizations are also in the works. “There's a broad consensus that we don't want folks living permanently in parks, it's not appropriate for them or for other users,” said Caradonna. “We've been putting all this capital funding in the parks because we want to bring the families back into the parks and make people feel comfortable and we want to get into and so far, we have been successful at it but we have a few parks left that are still flashpoints,” he said. 

Another part of the revitalization plan is a new look for City Hall’s Centennial Square that will see the fountain replaced by a new interactive water feature. The statue in the existing fountain,” Caradonna said, “will be stored and integrated into another setting.” 

Arts: Expect more city help with the lack of venues and spaces

Investment in arts and culture is a passion project for Dell, who previously worked in the sector. 

“If we want to retain and revive our art scene, we need to invest in it,” he said. Arts spaces in the city have been greatly reduced because of gentrification and lack of affordability. Council gave the owners of the large Art Deco style office building—that once housed the BC Power Commission—at 780 Blanshard, a break on property taxes to make it affordable to the arts orgs already housed there. 

According to Dell and Caradonna, council is discussing the possibility of funding more venues in the city for live music. Caradonna said he would like to see more car-free zones and a replication of Fernwood Square in other parts of the city. “It’s really about livability and placemaking,” he said. 

Environment: Expect more conversations on mass transit

In the environmental realm, they have what they call “bold plans” to make Victoria increasingly green and bring it as close as possible to its net-zero emissions targets by 2045. The city was the first to adopt Zero Carbon Step Codes for new builds-aiming to reduce greenhouse emissions from new construction. Other municipalities, such as Saanich have followed Victoria’s lead and have applied the same timelines to their policies. The two share the dream of bringing light rail to the CRD—one line heading to the airport and possibly another along the Westshore. 

“We have just started the approval process for creating a transportation service, which we currently don't have,” said Caradonna. “And then after that's functional for a year,” he said “we're going to do a business case and create a transportation authority and that will look something like a transit system–-and then we can seriously start to talk about rapid bus transit and light rail.” The pair hopes to bake the light rail project into the city’s 10- to 15-year Official Community Plan.

The council highlights point to a greener, more arts friendly future for Victoria in a region linked by rapid, zero-emissions transportation options. That vision can’t happen without the cooperation of the CRD as a necessary and cohesive regional engine to move some of these proposed larger projects forward. “We need the CRD to have a huge and powerful vision.”

CRD residents will have to wait and see if their optimistic vision for the city will become reality. 

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Parks, arts, housing—and maybe even light rail: Victoria councillors say city is eyeing big, sustainable moves
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