Roundhouse Redux

Bayview's Roundhouse, a contentious project 20 years in the making, finally gets the green light.

Artists rendering of the Roundhouse at Bayview Place.

If Ken Mariash has his way, a pivotal piece of Vic West property will join his existing Bayview development, morphing into the long-talked-about Roundhouse at Bayview Place.

“We started this in the late ’90s. I knew it was a dangerous proposition,” recalls the Saskatchewan-born developer and Focus Equities owner. “Behind the scenes, it’s been a nightmare.” That’s due to vocal public skepticism, and city demands that led to many iterations and a revolving door of designers and architects.

But in late January the nightmare was finally over when Victoria city council, in a 7-2 vote, approved a rezoning bylaw that allows Focus to break ground on its 10-acre chunk of land, once an industrial site.

The approved plan now allows for nine condo/apartment/hotel buildings ranging from 10 to 32 storeys. That will mean 1,870 residential units with about 12 per cent of them (215) under the “below-market” rental rate. The site’s heritage buildings, including the former E&N Railway roundhouse, will be remediated and 70,000 square feet of commercial space is promised.

Mariash is even thinking about a Ferris wheel and promises the public/commercial area will be even better than Granville Island. “It’s going to be a cool marketplace,” he says.

But Mariash predicts it will take about a decade to realize his Bayview vision due to numerous factors: pre-sales of condos, slowed by high interest rates, need to be finalized; securing complex building permits takes a long time; finding qualified tradespeople is a challenge.

Being able to build tall, rather than low, is an advantage, especially since floors on the upper levels, which promise dramatic harbour and mountain views, sell for more than the first six or seven floors. “If you can do something that’s elegant, it’s easy to live with,” he says.

Victoria Councillor Chris Coleman was one of the seven who voted for the rezoning. He acknowledges the go-ahead proved controversial, with thousands of letters and emails flooding the city on both sides of the issues. But the carrot was the lower-cost rentals and supportive housing. “It’s a balancing act, chasing housing,” Coleman says.

The loathing expressed by some over Bayview’s highrises was misdirected, he adds. Vancouver has 60-storey-plus buildings; at about half that height, Bayview’s 32 floors are preferable to short, squat structures. “It’s about change. When you’re taking on density, you know people can be opposed,” Coleman says.