By Evan Locke
Evan is a designer in Number TEN's Victoria office.
It is no secret that Victoria, and BC as a whole is experiencing a housing affordability crisis. As of October 2018, the vacancy rate in the capital region was 1.2 percent, and the average monthly rent was $1,170 for a one-bedroom unit (two-bedroom units averaging $1,406). The development of new purpose-built rental housing projects is seen as a major factor in solving this problem. Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) has said that the rate of construction for new rental apartments is at the highest it has been since the 1970’s. The City’s Victoria Housing Strategy 2016-2026 targets 800 affordable rental units by 2026. Number TEN has been in the thick of it, concurrently designing two new affordable rental housing projects on Vancouver Island, both now set to go before city councils for development approval.
The Cedar Grove Apartment project at 210 Gorge Road is being developed with the Victoria Cool Aid Society, a significant provider of affordable housing, shelter as well as health and employment opportunities in the region. This new five storey, 72-unit apartment building incorporates 42 affordable rental suites and 30 permanent supportive housing units. Part of the Regional Housing First Program and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness’ “Priority Housing Projects List”, the project has support from the Capital Regional District, CMHC, and BC Housing. The project targets an integrated resident population: working singles, low-income couples, seniors, and adults needing supportive housing.
The proposed Cedar Grove project is planned for the mixed-residential Burnside Gorge neighborhood on the site of a former motel currently serving as one of Cool Aid’s supportive housing offerings. The property has a significant slope that acts as a buffer between the single-family residential homes on Carrol Street and the busy arterial nature of Gorge Road East. The new building is carefully designed to work with the terrain while visually transitioning from the higher-density Gorge corridor to the adjacent single-family homes.
The project has been the subject of an extensive municipal process, with initial design proposals raising opposition to a proposed six storey option. Number TEN has worked alongside Cool Aid to garner the support of the neighborhood residents and the City; re-designing the building to fit within the design objectives of the neighborhood plan and the city’s official community plan for the area.
Public Open Houses provided neighbors the opportunity to respond to the proposed development and offer feedback that was used to further develop the building’s design considerations. The siting was specifically intended to minimize impacts on neighbours with shadow studies used to demonstrate that the proposed stepping of the building would result in virtually no shadowing on neighbours. The locations for the main living areas of each unit have been carefully considered to avoid overlook and to ensure privacy for neighbours. Fencing and landscape screening further augment privacy intentions.
The Cedar Grove apartment project is now scheduled to go through the final steps of Rezoning / Development Permit approval with the City of Victoria, and will be presented to City Council.
Number TEN has also been working with other partners to bring new rental housing to Victoria, including the Anglican Diocese of BC to develop the St. Peter and St. Pauls’ Ministry Centre and Affordable Housing Project. The intent by the Diocese is to bring new life into their existing properties by combining church, community and senior housing onto church property. The St. Peter and St. Paul’s program includes a main-floor 6,000 sq. ft. Ministry Centre with associated multipurpose space, offices, kitchen and ancillary space for use by the church and local community. In addition, there are five floors of affordable seniors housing above (24 units). The housing floor’s staggered plan allows views of the church’s steeple from the neighbourhood and allows the suites to have two window walls for natural ventilation. The suites are designed with adaptable housing standards to allow aging in place.
The heritage designated church is prized for its steeple and character naval-themed interior and intricate stained-glass windows. The existing church hall on the property houses the washrooms and associated hall, offices and classrooms for the church but is in poor condition and does not satisfy the church’s needs. Parishioners must leave the church and walk outside to the hall to use the washrooms and other spaces.
The major goals for the project include replacing the aging church hall with a new, convenient and accessible ministry centre that can be used by the Parish and community members of all ages; providing barrier-free washroom facilities for church users; revitalizing the church by opening out to the community with open, welcoming spaces and better use of existing spaces; and developing affordable seniors rental apartments.
The rezoning of 1379 Esquimalt was approved in October 2018, allowing for the development of the affordable rental housing units and the creation of the new ministry centre and activity hall. However, the approval was subject to a Heritage Alteration Permit concerning the physical connection of the new building to the existing heritage church. A heritage review committee was established to review options for this physical connection and provide recommendations for a preferred design.
This unique process allowed for design decisions to be deliberated on in an open and transparent way. Chaired by Steve Barber, a former Heritage Planner with the City of Victoria, the committee membership included an expert in building history and heritage design, Parish representation, an accessibility representative, a local Esquimalt resident, and the Esquimalt archivist. The group was tasked with considering the interests of the project and the status of the heritage church, understanding the historical context of the property within the neighbourhood and the wider community, and reviewing best practices for integrating and working with heritage buildings and new structures.
The presentation of the original design for the new ministry centre raised some concerns from the community because it directly abutted the West face of the heritage church and included two new door openings in the church’s west wall, and because the new building partially obstructed views of the church’s west facade and stained-glass feature from Esquimalt Road. Number TEN presented multiple options and design solutions to the heritage review committee that addressed these concerns in four publicly attended meetings over the course of three months. This ultimately resulted in a consensus decision for an endorsed design direction.
The shape of the ministry centre’s ground floor was altered to create a physical separation from the West façade of the church with an angled wall creating a triangular courtyard space between the new ministry centre and the church. This design approach allowed the church building to retain visual autonomy from the new and allow greater visibility of the church and the centennial stained-glass windows from Esquimalt Road.
The physical link between the new building and the heritage-designated church was relocated from the original proposal’s west elevation addition to a new entrance vestibule on the south façade that mirrors the church’s original north elevation entrance off Esquimalt Road. This connection was chosen because it was least intrusive to the existing church and mirrored the architectural intent of the original church design in the new entry vestibule.
The exterior design of the new connection to the heritage church takes design inspiration from the Gothic style and detail work of the original building but distinguishes itself with the use of glass throughout the vestibule that provides additional visibility through to the face of the original church, and allows for the most amount of sunlight and the least change in the quality of light within the nave.
The newly redesigned St. Peter and St. Paul’s Ministry Centre and Affordable Housing Project has now been re-submitted to the Township of Esquimalt for approval of the Heritage Alteration Permit and Development Permit.