Update: Saanich residential care building on fast track

A residential care unit in Saanich will break ground as soon as possible, a decision made in the wake of Oak Bay quashing a partner project

Construction of a residential care unit in Saanich will break ground as soon as possible, a decision made in the wake of Oak Bay council quashing a partner project last week.

Oak Bay voted down requested height and parking variances to redevelop Oak Bay Lodge as a 320-bed dementia care facility, operated by Baptist Housing on behalf of the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The tandem project is a seven-storey, 260-bed facility at Mount View Heights on Carey Road in Saanich.

The two buildings were designed to replace 580 residential care beds in Greater Victoria, but VIHA will now seek a new site for the building once planned for Oak Bay.

VIHA president and CEO Howard Waldner said that in the meantime, the Mount View Heights project would forge ahead as planned.

“We’re going to be proceeding to finalizing that,” Waldner said, noting that Saanich approved the project more than a year ago. “(Saanich) dealt with this very expeditiously and we’ll be moving forward to get that one under construction as soon as we can.”

VIHA, Baptist Housing and the Capital Regional Hospital District have partnered in a $125-million project to replace beds at the existing Oak Bay Lodge and at Mount Tolmie Hospital.

“We will build the beds elsewhere, outside of Oak Bay,” Waldner said. “Oak Bay Lodge will close.

“We’ll be giving the requisite one year notice to families of the move.”

Waldner said VIHA is already hearing from other municipalities interested in seeing a facility on their turf.

“Those beds were needed two years ago, so we’re going to be moving very quickly to re-provide those beds,” Waldner said. “My target would be to have these beds open within two years.”

Oak Bay’s rejection makes it a bittersweet week for Baptist Housing, which just celebrated last Wednesday’s opening of Carey Place, a 55-unit affordable seniors apartment complex on the Mount View Heights property.

Howard Johnson, the CEO Baptist Housing, said he was blindsided by Oak Bay’s decision to vote down requested variances on height and parking.

After being shot down on variances in November 2011, Johnson said Baptist Housing worked closely with Oak Bay municipal staff and neighbouring residents to address concerns.

The organization held no less than eight public meetings, he said, and worked with staff to create a building that met the need for 320 beds and that fit within the community.

“We spent a great deal of time talking to the neighbours and made a number of changes in terms of height and location on the site,” Johnson said.

“We felt there was enough change and my sense was that there was indications we’d be successful. It would be foolish to go through this again if we’d thought it would be a 4-2 vote.

“We are extremely disappointed in the decision Oak Bay council made. We feel there is a great need for care for seniors in Oak Bay.”

Opposing Oak Bay councillors said the proposed building was too big and out of character for the neighbourhood.

“VIHA should have asked us at the outset what we thought was appropriate on the site,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, who cast the final vote opposed to the variances.

– with files from Edward Hill

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com