Development helps fill student housing need

NANAIMO: Wakesiah Avenue project first of its kind in city.

Manjit Bal

Manjit Bal

Nanaimo’s first privately-funded student housing complex officially opens its doors Wednesday (Aug. 29).

Great West Student Residences on Wakesiah Avenue, across from Vancouver Island University, is a 25-unit, 37-bed student housing complex.

The furnished one- and two-bedroom suites each feature a kitchenette with microwave, fridge and two-burner stove and a three-piece bathroom. The three-storey building also has indoor and outdoor common areas on each floor, free wireless Internet, a covered bike storage area in the basement, coin-operated laundry facility and secured premises, including cameras, key card entry and on-site management.

Manjit Bal, owner of Great West Developments Ltd., said he got the idea for the residences in 2009 when he was in Nanaimo working on another project and had a conversation with some city officials about the shortage of student housing in the city.

Because the project was a first for Nanaimo, a unique zoning had to be created for the project.

“There was no legislation, no rules and regulations to follow,” said Maureen Pilcher, a land-use consultant representing Great West. “We basically had to reinvent the wheel. It’s not only dedicated to students, it’s covenanted so it can only be for students.”

She said the complex is being marketed to international students because of its location next to the university and proximity to shopping, restaurants and other amenities and it only has about a dozen parking spaces in expectation that many residents will not have cars.

Pilcher describes the building as modern and edgy, with an exterior designed to compliment the industrial-like buildings across the street at VIU.

Andrea Blakeman, manager of VIU’s homestay program, said there’s a great need for more off-campus housing options.

The university has just under 400 dorm spaces on campus, yet 10,000-12,000 students attend VIU each year, including between 1,200 and 1,600 international students.

She said the Great West Residences are for mature students who want to focus on their studies – the complex has a long list of rules and regulations that are to be followed.

“It is not for party going kids,” said Blakeman.

Gary Noble, the city’s development approvals manager, said this is the first project of its kind in the city, but preliminary discussions are happening with two other developers regarding student housing on Third Street and in the Old City Quarter. He said the city is happy with the location and design of the new residences, as Wakesiah Avenue is designated as a main corridor, so the city wants to encourage mixed-use development there.

“The city is hoping to see more of these projects along there and create a sort of university precinct at some point,” said Noble.

Bal said about 11 of the units are filled and he has more applications to look through. He is also looking for an on-site manager.

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