New housing on existing lots offer contemporary design in established, family friendly neighbourhoods.
By Linda Barnard | Photo by Joshua Lawrence
Damion Briscoe and his wife Christine Rafferty-Briscoe are getting used to people stopping to stare at their James Bay townhouse. In a city where single-family homes are the norm, their two-bedroom-plus-den, 1,500-square-foot townhouse is an infill project. It sits amid traditional houses, one of six modern units built on a corner that once held two rundown homes.
Briscoe believes the Frank project, built by Aryze Developments and completed in 2016, has “energized” the corner.
“It really stands out,” says Briscoe, a semi-retired former design engineer who works part- time for the Salal Foundation. “There are only a few developments that stand out in Victoria.”
The exterior incorporates weathered steel and plenty of windows in a contemporary take on an urban brownstone.
The front door of Briscoe’s townhome opens to the street. There’s a 100-square-foot private patio out front and shared common green space in back. The couple and their children, ages 12 and 15, walk everywhere, says Briscoe. Their home is energy efficient, lets in lots of natural light and makes good use of space.
In a city dominated by single-family homes, infill townhouse projects fill a home-ownership gap that will improve urban life in Victoria, say two principals with Fairfield-based Aryze Developments.
Long popular in cities including Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, infill projects slot small clusters of new townhomes on compact lots among decades-old houses in desirable neighbourhoods. Retail, restaurants, schools and services are within walking distance.
Communities are strengthened and benefit from increased density. Prices are more wallet- friendly than single-family homes.
“From a holistic point of view, it’s better for the community,” says Briscoe. His family puts less than 5,000 km a year on their car because they walk everywhere, using local amenities and services.
“We’re really focused on improving our city and improving livability,” says Aryze general manager Ryan Goodman.
“This is such an important thing to be doing because there aren’t a lot of these types of homes in Victoria,” adds Justin Filuk, Aryze director of development. “They’re so ubiquitous in other parts of Canada, and they’re so sought after.”
With common interior walls akin to a condominium apartment and front doors that open to the street like a house, townhouses fall between high-rise units and single-family homes for buyers.
While half the city’s land includes neighbourhoods like Fairfield-Gonzales, Rockland and Fernwood, only 10 per cent of Victoria’s population growth has happened in these areas in the last 45 years, says Filuk. Most new builds are downtown condos.
Aryze’s new infill builds include the 22-townhome project Rhodo on Fairfield Road, which features cedar siding, glass and metal- accented exteriors and customizable interiors.
Rotunda is a mixed condo and townhome infill project designed by D’Arcy Jones Architects, located near the provincial Legislature on Parry Street in James Bay.
Also designed by D’Arcy Jones Architecture, Pearl Block consists of six three-bedroom townhomes in Oaklands on Shelbourne Street. It occupies a lot that had been empty for more than 60 years.
It just makes sense to build within neighbourhoods, says Filuk.
“When you go to cities like Victoria, the charm of the city is often outside downtown in these little neighborhood nodes that exist just outside the periphery of downtown,” he says. With parks and green spaces, these pockets are especially appealing to families.
Goodman said Aryze targets what he calls a niche market of buyers — those who love Victoria’s neighbourhoods but aren’t interested in an older home. They value contemporary architectural looks, but their budget doesn’t stretch to a custom build.
“By doing smaller routine projects, we’re able to work with more creative architects and push the edge with design,” Goodman says.
It’s taken a while for Victoria to warm to the idea of compact townhouse living, where small decks, courtyards and terraces take the place of backyards.
“A lot of people (in Victoria) are sort of dug in and have this traditional single-family mindset,” says Goodman.
He sees potential for Victoria neighbourhoods to house more people in entrenched areas. Intensification means better use of shared resources and an improved quality of life. Car use declines as more people walk and cycle to work and run errands close to home. Neighbourhoods are more diverse, with a mix of ages and income levels.
Working from home emerged out of necessity during COVID-19. It seems likely to continue. Goodman points out townhomes have more windows for light and ventilation than condo apartments, as well as enough square footage to encourage flexible ways to use rooms and to carve out semi-private, work-from-home living spaces.
Aryze began as a custom builder in 2006 and expanded to develop infill and mixed-use projects. It’s also responsible for the whimsical Project Albero swim float and floating tree in the Gorge Waterway.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps wants city council to streamline the zoning process to make it easier for infill projects like these to be built.
“My hope is that we can rezone the whole city, or certainly large blanket portions of the city, so that builders like Aryze and others won’t have to go through a three-year process to get the rights to build townhouses like they had to [with Rhodo],” she tells Spruce.
Helps said as more people move to Victoria for work and lifestyle, housing alternatives to single-family dwellings allows the city to do more with a limited footprint. Townhouses, stacked townhouses and house-plexes that look like traditional residential builds provide more density to serve the “missing middle” homebuyers, she said — those whose budgets fall between condos and houses.
“I really think they are the way to go. And I think that that’s what cities like Victoria need for the future,” Helps says.
“We think that for families in Victoria, townhomes solve one of the most important issues today, which is having a comfortable home to have a family that isn’t driving out to the West Shore, or way out to the [Saanich] peninsula,” says Filuk. “We want to build homes that are comfortable, that have some architectural interest, and we’re trying to build this place where you can grow as a person and have a family, and that is something that you’re really proud of.”
Goodman said Rhodo purchasers are a mix of buyers, from young families to seniors who are downsizing and want to stay in the neighbourhood, yet want to feel like they are still living in a house.
The developers want to build projects that become known as local design landmarks.
“All great cities have that kind of architecture and that kind of development,” Filuk says. “And so that’s our hope for Victoria, that we can be the kind of driver of change and facilitate that in our city and bring more people to neighbourhoods outside of downtown.”