October 12, 2019
Dear Mayor and Council,
I am writing to you today regarding the Northern Junk buildings, also known as 1314-1324 Wharf Street. It is my understanding that the redevelopment proposal for these buildings is coming to the Committee of the Whole soon and Council will consider forwarding on the project to public hearing.
I am a long-time resident of Victoria and the author behind the blog, Sidewalking Victoria. If you have read my blog, you will know that I have an interest in the Northern Junk buildings, having published two articles on them. They can be found as follows:
It will not be a surprise then, that I am writing you in support of the current application by Reliance Properties to save the two buildings and add additional housing above them.
I am the first to admit that what we have here is a compromise solution. I have seen all the iterations brought forward for these buildings and I honestly think that the original proposal was perhaps the best option though folks could not see how that proposal met the Heritage Guidelines, though it clearly did. We have now finally arrived at this compromise solution because the city has decided not to sell the property to the north of the two buildings. It is unclear what the city intends to do with this waterfront parcel, as there are limited uses for it apart from market residential. I just hope the city will neither leave the parcel farrow nor turn it into a park (This would be a further affront to downtown in this location).
So, the property owner now has a limited way to try and recoup their investment and protect the two buildings from falling down. They have presented us with a plan for a single but multi-faceted building giving it the appearance of two buildings. With this plan I think that the architect has both highlighted the heritage aspects of the original buildings while presenting a modern and distinct design for the upper floors. The plan will provide animation to the harbour frontage with waterfront commercial space and provide eyes on the neglected and seldom used, Reeson Park, with large windows from the residential foyer. The upper floors allow the industrial beauty of the original buildings to stand out while also being modern take on the heritage form of Old Town. I would be the first one to have concerns about a proposal like this if I hadn’t seen it first, but it is an elegant solution to a problem that saves the buildings and elevates the neighbourhood.
I did read the recent response to the proposal from the Hallmark Society in the Times Colonist and was sad to see them try and focus the blame for the possible collapse of the two decaying buildings on the developer. Even going so far as to allude to the possibility that the developer should have been aware that putting forward numerous significant design changes over a decade would not be enough and that they should have instead focused that money into a smaller scale redevelopment of the buildings. I truly hope that is not the type of message we are trying to put out to companies trying to invest their time and money into reinvigorating heritage buildings in Victoria. One needs only look across to the success of the Janion building (which received an award from the Hallmark Society) that was redeveloped by the same company, the animation of the plaza along Pandora gets better every time I go by there and they saved a building that seemed to be certain to collapse.
The proposal before you now is likely the last chance before we will simply be putting up a plaque over some jumbled pile of stone, to both save the buildings and have a place that contributes positively to the urban fabric of Victoria. I truly look forward to seeing your support in moving this project to public hearing and allowing the city at large to provide you comment on the current proposal.