Shipyard zoning concessions contemplated by Victoria council

United Engineering Building derelict, but its replacement location up in the air

Four years since adopting design guidelines for the industrial harbourfront, the city is taking steps to break its own rules in order to accommodate some very special circumstances.

Ralmax Group of Properties proposes building a larger version of its United Engineering facility – 21 metres high – on the north end of its Point Hope Shipyards site, but needs council approval for a height variance.

Currently, the property’s height restrictions vary between three and 19 metres, depending on proximity to the water. The new building could also be placed anywhere within a 137-metre envelope.

Ralmax leases its land from the city, which took the unusual step of putting forward the rezoning application.

The idea is “to provide the greatest maximum potential for different choices to be made,” said Coun. Marianne Alto.

Alto sits on the planning and land-use committee, which last week voted to recommend that council approve the variance.

The current United Engineering building is derelict and needs to be replaced within two years, said Ralmax president and CEO, Ian Maxwell. The operation also needs to be relocated, because its current location interferes with Point Hope’s business.

Originally, Maxwell planned to build a new facility south of the current location, toward the Johnson Street Bridge. He spent $1 million in planning on the site, after exercising an option to lease 203 Harbour Rd. from the city.

As the city’s bridge-replacement plans advanced, however, the city determined the need to use most of this lot during the construction phase of the bridge, estimated to last until 2016.

“The city suggested we look at the north end of the site,” said Ralmax spokesperson Kathi Springer. “So Ralmax said ‘yes, absolutely, we can take a look at that, but we’re not going to spend all the money up front to do all the necessary planning … until we have that property (properly) zoned.”

The city’s application to relax zoning could be seen as a form of compensation to Ralmax for the loss of use of 203 Harbour Rd. during bridge construction.

“You could look at it that way,” Alto said. “My view would be that we’re being extra accommodating, because it gives them the best potential to make money. And we want them to make money … which then creates more money for the city and more employment.”

Any concessions by the city, however, might not prove enough.

Feasibility studies could reveal the north end of the property will be unable to accommodate a new building.

If that happens, “we’re going to have to make some very critical decisions on what we’re doing with United Engineering,” Maxwell said.

He is still finalizing the lease for 203 Harbour Rd., with a deadline of Aug. 1.

“I guess we’ll have to sit down and say ‘OK, what’s the date we can actually use the property?'”

rholmen@vicnews.com