Monday, April 23, 2007

I find the proposal for a 21 storey condo development at the Crystal Court location very interesting. First off, it adds a fair number more people in the area - the density increases would improve services in the area. But even more so, the offer of 25 000 square feet for art gallery space is very interesting. The location is the right place to have this sort of exhibition space, at the core of the downtown tourism area.

Here is the article from the Victoria News

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By Brennan Clarke
News staff

Apr 18 2007

Developer offers to pay for new art gallery exhibit space in return for “400 per cent” density lift

Plans to replace Crystal Court Motel with a new art gallery at the foot of Blanshard Street include a 21-storey condominium tower, the project’s developer told members of the James Bay Environmental Association last week.

Vancouver-based Westbank Properties is proposing a 25,000 square-foot art gallery at the Douglas Street end of the Crystal Court property and a high-rise of either 19 or 21 storeys closer to Blanshard Street.

Under a partnership agreement with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Westbank is offering to fund a new $5 million exhibition space in return for a major increase in the density currently allowed on the site.

Most of those who spoke at the James Bay Environmental Association’s annual general meeting Wednesday welcomed the idea of an art gallery on the site, but objected to the size of the accompanying condo tower.

Marg Gardner, secretary-treasurer of the neighbourhood group, said each floor of the high rise represents a million-dollar profit for the developer and argued that “the gallery would be paid off by the time you got to the 10th or 11th storey.”

Gardner also pointed out that the city’s bonus-density policy, which offers extra density in return for community “amenities,” does not apply to the Crystal Court property.

Longtime James Bay resident Marc Pakenham said the recent spate of tall buildings approved by Victoria council is emboldening other developers to test the limits of city policy.

“We’re now seeing the effect of the (Hudson) Bay site on Douglas Street spilling over into the James Bay neighbourhood,” Pakenham said. “This proposal is 400 per cent more than the allowable density. It is so out of character with the area that it’s in.”

Crystal Court Motel, recently purchased by Westbank, is a stone’s throw from several of the city’s most important heritage and tourist attractions – Royal B.C. Museum, Mungo Martin long house, St. Ann’s Academy, Crystal Garden, the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the provincial legislature.

“As presented we believe it will add to the congestion, with only one eastbound lane going down Belleville for access in and access out,” said Dallas Road resident Doug Craig.

Consultant Peter Joyce said initial studies indicate only a “two to three per cent increase in traffic from the development.”

Anthony Hartnell, owner of the Queen Victoria Hotel immediately behind Crystal Court, said Westbank officials have consulted him and agreed to erect a taller, thinner building that would minimize the impact on his hotel’s views of the Inner Harbour.

“For me, a seven-storey squat is the worst possible design. That would block about 60 per cent of the views on the south side of my building,” Hartnell said.

“What these developers have in mind is not perfect but it’s certainly 10 times better than the alternative.”

Outside the meeting, Westbank president Bob Pearce said height of the tower is a result of factors such as rising construction costs and skyrocketing real estate prices.

“It’s not about what you can get. It’s a function of what the marketplace dictates,” he said.

bclarke@vicnews.com

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