City council took the first steps toward re-zoning the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel property to allow for a huge mixed-use development.
Councillors, at a meeting Aug. 29, voted unanimously in favour of first and second readings to re-zone 444, 550 and 500 Comox Rd., 55 Mill St. and 1 Terminal Ave. into a comprehensive development district zone.
Strongitharm Consulting Ltd., on behalf of two neighbouring land owners, is proposing a six-lot subdivision with eight buildings totalling 760 units, plus a hotel and conference centre and more than 10,000 square feet of commercial space. The application proposes two 16-storey highrises, two six-to-eight-storey buildings, two five-to-six-storey buildings, a three-storey townhouse building, and a five-to-six-storey hotel.
“We think it’s a significant transformation of this site and the best I’ve seen so far, if I do say so myself, from all the many iterations of designs that have been applied to this site,” said architect Franc D’Ambrosio. “I think this one is the most suitable and the most consistent with the city’s intentions for the area.”
Jeremy Holm, the city’s director of development approvals, called the properties “a gateway site” to the downtown.
“The concept plan reflects the prominence of the site and responds well to policy direction set by the city plan as well as the site constraints, as well as delivering some significant public benefits,” he said.
The applicant is volunteering a park dedication along the Millstone River valued at $1.7 million, plus other community amenities including a public walkway that will connect to the Harbourfront Walkway. Riverbank restoration will provide a “net environmental benefit considering the current condition there,” Holm suggested.
A city staff report noted that the proposed building heights will not exceed what is permitted under existing zoning, not even the highrises. The applicant intends to provide all required parking on site, underground or under-building. Primary vehicle access will be at the Comox Road-Wallace Street intersection, but the development’s crescent drive will also have a second right-turn-only exit onto Comox a little ways up the hill. Mill Street will also connect to the development.
Councillors had some questions about the current tenants of small apartment buildings on two of the lots and were advised that while seven units are occupied, any demolition is likely two years away. Councillors also wanted to know more about the development’s potential impacts on traffic.
“I’ll be very interested in the traffic studies and how we’re going to handle all the increased traffic in that area,” said Coun. Ian Thorpe. “But a very exciting project at a key location. We’ve been waiting a long time for some redevelopment there.”
Coun. Ben Geselbracht said he appreciated the vision presented for the site and Mayor Leonard Krog said the project could be transformational.
“That is a site that has cried out for redevelopment and improvement,” he said.