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

TELUS Ocean high-rise development goes to final public hearing Thursday night

The large modern building is proposed for a downtown site on Douglas Street. It has attracted admiration from some and scorn from others

By Martin Bauman
December 9, 2021
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

TELUS Ocean high-rise development goes to final public hearing Thursday night

The large modern building is proposed for a downtown site on Douglas Street. It has attracted admiration from some and scorn from others

By Martin Bauman
Dec 9, 2021
TELUS/Aryze
TELUS/Aryze
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

TELUS Ocean high-rise development goes to final public hearing Thursday night

The large modern building is proposed for a downtown site on Douglas Street. It has attracted admiration from some and scorn from others

By Martin Bauman
December 9, 2021
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TELUS Ocean high-rise development goes to final public hearing Thursday night

This article is based on interviews from the Capital Daily podcast. You can listen and subscribe here or on your podcasting app of choice.

The future of Victoria’s downtown will become clearer tonight. The proposed TELUS Ocean development, a much-debated 12-storey office tower planned for the corner of Douglas and Humboldt streets, will go to its final public hearing. It will be the last opportunity for public input before Victoria city councillors decide on whether to approve the project.

Set at 767 Douglas Street, the glass-walled, triangle-shaped building has—fittingly—become something of a wedge between heritage advocates and futurists: a “vital step in realizing the City’s ‘Victoria 3.0’ vision,” according to Aryze Developments, and an “environmental disaster,” according to former city councillor Pam Madoff.

An illustration showing the site's location. Images: TELUS/Aryze.

The story of the development dates back to 2017. The City of Victoria invited developers to submit proposals for the city-owned space next to the Crystal Gardens complex, but a winner, rumoured as early as November 2017, wasn’t formally announced until June 2020. TELUS, in a joint bid with Victoria-based Aryze, agreed to purchase the lot for $8.1 million, plus another $1.1 million depending on the final proposal submitted and approved as part of rezoning. The vision, according to the Vancouver-based telecommunications giant, was to create a “key hub in Victoria’s tech and innovation ecosystem,” serving as the new home for TELUS Victoria and its employees.

“We think of it as a really strong signal that Victoria is an area that people want to move to,” says Luke Mari, Principal and Development Lead at Aryze.

Mayor Lisa Helps has called it “the end of a long road and the beginning of a new journey.”

The project—which would occupy roughly 144,000 square feet of office and commercial space—calls for about 38,000 square feet of public space improvements, including a redesigned pedestrian plaza on Humboldt Street, an expanded Douglas Street sidewalk, and a rooftop terrace designed for hosting events. TELUS expects the building to serve as headquarters to 250 employees, with room to grow up to 450. 

The building itself will be a diamond-shaped shard that will loom over the Empress Hotel from the waterfront—and, some fear, will change the city’s character and density irrevocably.

Among the fears about the TELUS Ocean project is that it will block out views of the Olympic Mountains from a few blocks north on Douglas Street. There are also heritage concerns about a building that would stand out against the likes of the nearby Empress or the BC Parliament Buildings a few blocks away.

“I just don't see how you could, in good conscience, support this,” says Pam Madoff, a heritage advocate and former 25-year city council member. 

“Why wouldn’t this application be referred to the Heritage Advisory Board?” councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, one of the four councillors who voted against the project, asked in March.

The south corner, looking north on Douglas Street.

The proposal has seen its share of disagreement since it was announced. In March 2021, councillors voted 5-4 to move the project forward—but not before debating the building’s projected impact on bird casualties, tree removal, and effects on the Douglas Street view corridor.

One of the primary concerns about the proposed tower is its height. Despite having 12 floors it will actually match the height of the neighbouring 18-storey tower at The Falls due to the floor height regulations required of commercial buildings.

Mari says that’s in line with what the site is intended for.

“The property itself has been zoned for a tall building since the 90s,” says Mari. “Yes, we're asking for height variances. But we're not actually asking for more building, we're just trying to reorganize it on the property.”

To accommodate for sightline impacts on the neighbouring Aria building and Victoria Marriott, Aryze is proposing to taper the building’s southernmost corner, shaving it down while lifting the ground floor of the northernmost corner to provide an open sightline for pedestrians.

An illustration created for the project showing the comparative height and the rooftop cutaway.

Another key concern is the proposed building’s heavy use of glass. 

“Why would you do that, when so many of the building codes now are requiring a very specific proportion of building mass to glazing to preclude the impact of climate change?” Madoff asks.

According to the International Energy Agency, roughly 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. And as temperatures rise and fall to greater extremes (think June 2020’s heat dome), the reliance on heating and cooling glass buildings grows in lockstep.

But Mari vows the proposed Ocean development is different: not just LEED Platinum-certified, but the “highest-performing building ever built in the province.”

“This building is not a glass building,” he counters. “Less than 50% of the [exterior of the] building is glass. It's just the selection of where we put the glass is very prominent … which is meant to allow light in for human health, but then also for heating of the building during the colder months.”

The building is proposed for less than a block from the Empress.

Madoff has questions about the additional $1.1 million that TELUS would pay the City of Victoria, depending on the final proposal and its density.

“When that [incentive is] dangling, you know, above council’s desks, it seems a very odd way of doing it, especially when it's publicly owned land,” she says.

Mari sees the project as a “catalyst” for the city’s digital future.

“Council’s going to have to turn their minds to, ‘what kind of city do we want Victoria to be?’” he says. 

“Those traditional buildings [nearby] kind of represent the old resource-based economy ... whereas we're building a building to serve the digital economy, which is a more modern economy.”

The public hearing will take place at 6:30pm in the Council Chambers at Victoria City Hall and will be accessible online on the city’s website. If approved, the project would begin construction in 2022.

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Martin Bauman
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