Build It and They Will Come
Build it and they will come…or maybe not. That’s what Esquimalt residents have to think about.
In the past week, two public workshops were hosted by Esquimalt Municipal Hall to explore changes to our Official Community Plan (OCP) that could increase our community’s height and density policies. Currently, building heights are limited to ten storeys with a loop hole that allows Council to approve larger projects if a developer is willing to contribute private funds towards such amenities as child care facilities, public art, parks, special-needs housing, street enhancements, public recreation facilities, or heritage preservation.
The question for Esquimalt is: do we like the way we are now or do we want a community makeover for ourselves? If it is the latter, then we need to examine strategies on how to better market Esquimalt to developers to invest in projects that will increase the social and economic value of our community.
Esquimalt is a naturally beautiful place, but we certainly have our share of downright ugly, run-down, outdated apartment buildings scattered around town, particularly along Esquimalt Road. Landowners will only tear down those eye-sore buildings and replace them with more attractive, modern housing if it is profitable. The new Ovation development at the 1300-block of Esquimalt Road is a prime example. Its profit margin remains to be seen.
Developers currently argue that Esquimalt’s land is not valuable enough to warrant major demolition and redevelopment projects. They have indicated to Municipal Hall that our OCP is too restrictive. Meanwhile, our local politicians are struggling to balance the budget without having to increase our taxes too dramatically. The revenue from new developments would certainly improve Esquimalt’s coffers.
In the middle of all this discussion and debate, we have the 17-storey Legion Tower proposal at 620 Admirals sitting idle with all of us wondering whether it will be approved or not, should it be approved or not, and what will be the impact on our community? Will it serve as a major precedent for all future development? Will it increase our community’s property values? When combined with the Ovation across the street, will it be the catalyst that brings further redevelopment? With more residents living in the area, will it attract a better stock of local businesses and community services?
Proponents argue that it will be a major positive change for Esquimalt that will begin the community-wide process of growth and revitalization. Skeptics are reserving judgment, pointing out that there is no guarantee that a few super-sized projects will lead the way to a better Esquimalt. Instead, we could just end up with a hodge-podge of luxury towers with no community improvements surrounding them.
In all of this discussion, it is important to note that we are essentially only talking about Esquimalt Village, Esquimalt Road/Head Street intersection, Craigflower & Tillicum Road intersection, and West Bay Harbour. These are neighbourhoods where Municipal Hall is considering adding height and density.
The entire community, however, will be impacted in one way or another. After all, we are talking about our identity as a community, who we are and how we live.
Read these three important documents (click on the links) and make your voice heard:
1) Official Community Plan information:
2) Height and density Powerpoint presentation:
3) Worksheet on building heights and density: