Frequently Asked Questions
What is happening with the Fairfield United Church?
The Fairfield United Church was built in 1925 and is at the end of its lifespan. The building is not on the City of Victoria’s heritage registry and can be dismantled. For a period of two years, the Fairfield United congregation explored the following options:
Amalgamate or merge with another church;
Sell the property and close the church;
Sell the property and rent space elsewhere;
Sell the property and engage in redevelopment with a like-minded partner.
The congregation chose to sell the property and explore a redevelopment opportunity that would see Fairfield United Church remain in the community on the property in a partnership model that would allow the congregation to evolve more broadly in a new business model. The new model would see a modern United Church Sanctuary space that would function as a Commons for neighbourhood interests allowing for opportunities for social engagement and broader spiritual impact for Fairfield residents.
After reviewing several proposals, in June 2016, the building and property of Fairfield United was sold to Unity Urban Properties Ltd. This company was chosen because of their proven professional expertise, hands on approach, and alignment with the congregation’s vision to create a new home that would function as a place of inclusion, welcome and worship for the Fairfield community.
Why didn’t Fairfield United simply renovate or replace the church?
Reverend Beth Walker: “The existing Church was constructed in 1925 and had an estimated life-span of 75 years. It is now a 93-year-old structure and in urgent need of expensive repairs and building code upgrades. Fairfield United Church received estimates in the area of $2-million to undertake functional repairs, and yet areas of the Church would still not meet the requirements of the building code.
While the Church has sentimental value in the neighbourhood, there are fewer than 100 members of the Church who attend service for two hours each week. While the Church remains open 3 days a week for walk-in contemplation and prayer, people seldom enter and the sanctuary remains largely empty 90% of the time. This redevelopment opportunity is ideal. It allows the congregation to stay together in the neighbourhood, and includes a development subsidy for the new construction of our purpose-built Sanctuary. It also includes the provision for us to purchase or lease our Sanctuary space at a preferential cost allowing for the congregation to embrace a new model of how we serve our congregation and our Fairfield neighbourhood. Through this special partnership with Unity Urban Properties, our challenges have become inspiring catalysts for a new Sanctuary and a Community Commons – a contemporary, diverse and inclusive common space for worship, arts and culture celebrations, and community well-being.”
What is the proposed redevelopment?
The proposed redevelopment, Unity Commons, is a forward-thinking, innovative and sustainable mixed-use residential and institutional development. The redevelopment allows the congregation of the Fairfield United Church to remain on the property and contribute more broadly to the community as the spirited heart of Fairfield, and adds new market rental housing to the area. The project will feature street-level retail café space, 15 one, two and three-bedroom rental apartments built to high environmental design standards, and a purpose-built Sanctuary space which will be the new home for the Fairfield United Church and more broadly, a space for community worship and connection. Rental apartments will be covenanted for rental use into perpetuity.
Unity Commons is founded in the three pillars of sustainability with profits supporting important social and environmental goals including the innovative subsidization of the new Fairfield United Church.
Unity Commons will be built to the new BC Energy Step Code: Step 3. In April 2018, the City of Victoria introduced a requirement for developments to meet Step 1 of the BC Energy Step Code Step with Step 3 being a requirement in 2020. Unity Commons will use far less energy and these efficiencies will also improve affordability for those renting homes.
What is an Application for an OCP Amendment and a Zoning By-law Amendment?
The Official Community Plan (OCP) is a community planning tool that helps guide the City of Victoria staff and Council in their decisions regarding land use. “Zoning” is a planning term that determines what can be built on a site. In order to build something different than what is currently on the property, with different land use and more height, Unity Urban Properties must apply for an OCP amendment and Zoning By-law change.
As part of its application, Unity Urban Properties is working with the City of Victoria to determine what can be built on the property. This includes technical studies of traffic and parking, geotechnical issues, and environmental issues, among others. Unity Urban Properties is also working with the Fairfield United Church congregation, neighbouring residents, the public and other interested groups to share information and receive feedback.
For the proposal to proceed, Unity Urban Properties is seeking an amendment to the Official Community Plan to recognize 4-storey massing, and a new development zone to reflect institutional, mixed-use residential and commercial uses. At 4 storeys, the proposed heights are lower than the existing Church at its peak. The design of the building includes set backs of the 4th floor minimizing its visual impact.
Does the OCP amendment for Unity Commons under Large Urban Village designation trigger zoning for higher density urban residential housing within a 400m radius of the Church, 1303 Fairfield Rd?
No. Language in the OCP is the assurance that this is not possible. Even though Unity Commons must seek approval under Large Urban Village designation, residential housing within a 400m radius of the Church cannot be classified as urban residential because Fairfield Road is not an arterial or secondary arterial Street.
If Fairfield Road was an arterial or a secondary arterial street, we would be allowed to seek approval to build our 4th storey within the Small Urban Village designation. We would not need the OCP amendment.
See the City of Victoria’s OCP sections 6.1.6 and 6.1.7 here.
What is the status of the City of Victoria’s approval process?
Unity Urban Properties submitted a development application to the City of Victoria in the fall of 2016 and commenced review with city staff on the proposed development plans.
Working with the community, the development plans have been amended incorporating feedback from residents, staff and committees. The most recent changes include increased setbacks in consideration of our immediate neighbours and a slightly different color palette softening the structure and adding a richer brick contrast.
A public hearing date has been set for the evening of Thursday March 14th in Council Chambers.
Following the public hearing, Council will vote on the application.
Can Unity Commons support increased density?
Yes. The redevelopment proposal remains true to the existing development footprint and its proposed density of 4-storeys is in keeping with the adjacent development on Moss Street. The redevelopment actually covers 5% less space than the existing United Church buildings and increases the public space through increased setbacks, the dedication of additional public right-of-way along Moss St and Fairfield Road, and the creation of active public plaza and seating areas. The introduction of a proposed coffee shop along with additional patio space provides a further social amenity. At 4 storeys, the height of Unity Commons is not as high as the peak of the existing church.
Will the residential portion of Unity Commons be condominium or rental?
We are building 15 new market rental units, and there will be a covenant on these homes to ensure they will be rental in perpetuity.
What will apartment rents be at Unity Commons?
The rates for the 15 units have not yet been set. Should the redevelopment proposal be successful, Unity Urban Properties will move forward to detailed design and then construction. As there are many variables at play during construction, rents will be set as the project nears completion.
To help a family with affordability, the 3-bedroom unit will be offered to a family at 30% of the gross household income for a moderate income family.
Will pets be allowed in the new development?
Yes, pets will be allowed in the new development.
What is the new business model/new vision of the Fairfield United Church?
Reverend Beth Walker: The culture of our worship is inclusive, welcoming and takes place in community. Our new, purpose-built Sanctuary will continue to serve as the spirited heart of Fairfield – and it will serve as a Community Commons, a welcoming space for all to utilize to deepen relationships, celebrate belonging and create meaning. Fairfield United believes in a community of all ages, family styles and genders living together and that the Sanctuary will become an intersection of inter-faith traditions and a place for arts and culture activities; A place to build and celebrate community.
Our congregation will worship in our Sanctuary – and we will be opening our doors to those who wish to share this beautiful space with us throughout the week and in the evenings. The Sanctuary will be a neighbourhood amenity.
When will the Fairfield United Church close? Where will services be held during construction?
Reverend Beth Walker: Fairfield United Church activities and services have moved across the street to the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association. The Church infrastructure is failing and there are parts of the Church that are no longer safe. We are grateful to the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association for their warm welcome.
What happened to the local organizations that held their meetings and activities at the Church?
Reverend Beth Walker: The Church hall has been utilized in the past by local groups. The deterioration of the building however meant that our congregation and these groups have had to relocate. Public safety is of paramount importance for us.
The Sanctuary space will function once again as a community space once the redevelopment has been approved and construction is nearing completion. We will engage with interested groups at that time.
How long will the construction of Unity Commons take?
Construction timelines are very difficult to predict with any accuracy. We anticipate, however, that construction will take approximately 1 year from the issuance of a building permit.
How will parking concerns be addressed?
The proposed development provides for residential parking and visitor parking. There will be 16 underground parking stalls for 15 units; 8 of the stalls will be flex stalls for public use during the day.
There will be 20 secure bike stalls and 12 weather-protected bike stalls near the entrances of the residences and the church sanctuary.
The congregation of Fairfield United Church has cooperative agreements for Sunday parking on an as needed basis with:
Fairfield Gonzales Community Association
through School District 61 rentals, at the Sir James Douglas Elementary School location