19-storey tower proposed for Med Grill site in Saanich

Residential project with commercial on the first floor; listed building will be preserved.

A proposal has been submitted to the municipality to build a 19-storey tower with different housing types and to restore the former town hall of Saanich – now the Med Grill Restaurant.

But the area’s community association is concerned about the height of the planned building amid lower structures on a prominent corner.

The plan calls for commercial space on the first floor of the tower and in the listed building.

It includes four levels of underground parking, a carsharing vehicle, 23 urban e-bikes and seven cargo bikes, plus outdoor roofs, new sidewalks and a center block staircase between West Saanich Road and Shawnee Road.

A total of 101 units were to be built. Of those, 29 units would be affordable housing under an agreement between the building owner and BC Housing. Other units would be rental homes and condominiums, said Deane Strongitharm of City Spaces, a consulting firm.

Plans call for 61 one-bedroom units, 32 two-bedroom units, and eight three-bedroom units. Six of the three bedrooms would be affordable housing and two would be apartments.

The 4512 West Saanich Rd. lot is bordered by Viewmont Avenue and Shawnee Road, north of the Royal Oak shopping center.

It is owned by Villages VP Restaurant and Pizza Inc., which is owned by the local Papaloukas family.

Strongitharm describes the building as a landmark with an elegant design. D’Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism is the architect for the building, which would have dark-colored brick and zinc panels with a patina, as well as a three-storey podium.

The tower’s lobby would be glazed over and feature a rain garden.

Franc D’Ambrosio said the area to be built was limited as the Grade II listed building is being saved and protected London plane trees remain. This gave the building “a slender shape with 19 compact floor slabs”.

The proposal will preserve heritage and integrate urban ecology and architecture into this “cornerstone” site in Royal Oak, he said Friday.

Strongitharm said that although the entry is for a 19-storey building, it would in fact have 18 habitable floors. The height of 19 floors has been measured as such because of the height differences on the sloping plot.

Strongitharm said the tower would fit nearby. “It really is a very prominent location in the heart of Royal Oak’s major commercial district,” said Strongitharm. Site is close to 10 bus routes, Elk and Beaver lakes, schools and Commonwealth Place swimming pool.

The height of the building will help support the rehabilitation of the heritage building and the affordable housing component, he said.

The 1911 Arts and Crafts Town Hall was designed by architect JCM Keith, who also designed Christ Church Cathedral.

It will be removed from the site to allow for the construction of the underground car park and then returned a few meters from its original site, D’Ambrosio said.

This allows people to walk through to a pergola and backyard.

A restaurant or cafe could be a suitable tenant in the former town hall, he said.

Roger Graham, president of the Royal Oak Community Association, said his group wants to respond to the proposal within a month.

When association members saw an earlier presentation from the developer, the tower was 16 stories lower, he said.

“As an association, we are well aware that the municipality of Saanich gives priority to increasing densification and ensuring affordability.”

The association is not against development, recognizing the merit of greater density and the need to provide affordable housing, he said. “We also need to reflect what we hear from our community members.” With 16 floors, the proposal was “problematic,” he said.

“There’s nothing around it that even compares to it.”

Saanich’s planning policy promotes development around village centers.

Projects should fit the community as it currently exists, Graham said, adding that a lower elevation would be preferable. “I don’t know what that magic number is.”

Strongitharm expects another year of talks with town hall. If a rezoning is approved to allow the project to proceed, construction could begin at the end of 2023, with an extension of approximately two years.

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