What’s in a number?
-Council Moves to Increase Building Height Restrictions to 12 Storeys.
At what was supposed to be a one-hour January 18 special Committee of the Whole meeting, Esquimalt Council went into overtime before a packed audience to (once again) debate what to do about its Official Community Plan (OCP) and specifically about height restrictions on development.
Council was presented with three options:
- Option 1: Eliminate height restrictions in OCP and, instead, concentrate on design guidelines, neighbourhood planning, and criteria that are specific enough to ensure new projects suit the area but are also flexible enough to attract development.
- Option 2: Amend the OCP to allow greater building heights to encourage new development.
- Option 3: Keep the status quo of a height restriction of only 10 storeys. Allow developers to go over 10 storeys if they are willing to contribute to the cost of community amenities (referred to as “density-bonusing”)
In the end, Council voted 4-3 to go with Option 2, with Councillors Meagan Brame, Alison Gaul, Randall Garrison, and Councillor Lynda Hundleby (who appeared to be the swing vote) voting in favour. That was followed by a motion to set the new height limits at 12 storeys.
In contrast, Mayor Barb Desjardins, Councillor Don Linge, and Councillor Bruce McIldoon argued instead for Option 1. Visibly frustrated, the three dissenting Council members felt that Option 2 would do little to encourage the revitalization of Esquimalt. Those in support, however, argued that the community needed closure on the matter. The community was formally consulted over the past year. It said it was willing to go a little higher on heights because it wanted to see Esquimalt grow as a community in a well-managed fashion. One side of Council sees that only happening through more flexibility while the other says it will happen with a new 12 storey limit.
Some supporters of the Legion Tower project at the 600-block of Admirals Road attended the meeting and vocally expressed frustration by the decision to limit heights at 12 storeys. The Legion project hopes to go as high as 17 storeys.
While Council moved a motion to set new height limits at 12, it got stuck on how to decide a new floor area ratio policy, another key element that, along with height, determines development density. That caused Council to postpone the final motion on amendinding the OCP until a future meeting.
Essentially, the OCP is (more or less) the same, but developers will soon be allowed to build up to 12 storeys (instead of the current 10 storeys) without having to negotiate with Council on density-bonusing amenities.
Whether simply adding two additional storeys to the height allowances will do anything to attract new development remains to be seen. Staff warned that the substitution of new numbers may be required in the future if “12” doesn’t work for developers. Reflective of the community, Council is divided on the matter.