Standing in Fan Tan Alley with my friend Allan Edgar — a long-time resident at 23 Fan Tan Alley — I watched a family wandering past taking photos of the national historic site. They did a double-take wandering past the “Save Fan Tan Alley” sign and stopped to put their names beside 2,300 others against a proposed development of #4 and #10-14 Fan Tan Alley. The development would see five new storeys added to the alley spread across the three buildings.
Edgar summed up the question being asked by everyone involved in the opposition, which is simply, “How can they do this?” Technically, the proposal is simple. While all of Chinatown is a national historic site, it turns out you could pave over every national historic site in Canada without a word from the feds. Municipal regulations also fall short due to the area’s current zoning, leaving the buildings essentially unprotected.
Ken Kelly of the Downtown Victoria Business Association remains positive, saying the change will add to the alley by restoring a derelict building. “I think that the developer will be accommodating to the businesses in the alley and go about this in a way that will minimize the long-term impacts to those businesses.”
Edgar and other business owners are not so hopeful.
“There was scaffolding here last year in August, and our business was down 25 per cent, so we know how it affects the traffic flow,” says Allan Cristall, owner of Turtle Express.
Along with the impacts of construction, occupants worry that what little light the alley gets will be blocked out by the additional height.
Nobody, critics included, is going to argue that an empty building is the ideal use for this space. But faced with a development that could irrevocably change a part of the capital that has existed for over a century, I get it when the folks who have been in the alley for 10 or 20 years want to think long and hard before giving the OK.
“When they opened this alley it was not a tourist destination … we made it a tourist destination and now we’re going to pay the price,” says Ernie Brach at The Turntable. “If they go ahead and do this there’s a chance there’ll be four new stores here when they’re finished.” M