CBC News — A condo project in Victoria could become one of the largest residential buildings in B.C. made from wood.

The proposed development on Speed Avenue, a few blocks outside the downtown core, will have a 12-storey tower with 179 units. Other than the underground parking garage, it will be constructed using entirely mass timber products.

The proposal also calls for a six-storey building next to the tower that will use traditional wood frame construction. It will be earmarked for affordable housing.

The developer said it chose to build with wood because it’s lighter and there were soil issues on the property “linked to the weight of the building.”

“That naturally led us to a mass timber building which is considerably lighter than a concrete building,” said Luke Mari, with Aryze Developments.

Mass timber covers a spectrum of different types of wood construction technologies that are used in place of concrete. Its use is growing in popularity in B.C.

“They’re a thick piece of wood that is now a structural element that is fire resistant and can take structural loads,” Mari said.

Timber buildings over six storeys have required special permissions because they exceed the parametres in the existing building code.

But the provincial government recently announced plans to change the code to allow 12-storey mass timber buildings. A similar change is expected in the federal building code.

Increasing the amount of wood used by B.C.’s construction industry also helps support the forest industry, said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“We are seeing some investment in B.C.,” he said. ” We are on the cutting edge of capturing the market.”

Making the switch to timber took some convincing for the builder behind the proposed development in Victoria.

“My only concern coming in was how the market would accept a wood timber building as opposed to a 12-storey concrete building,” said Edward Geric from Mike Geric Construction.

But seeing similar projects being built in other cities such as Portland provided confidence in the technology.

Wood construction also offers better affordability and a lighter environmental footprint than using concrete, Mari said.

There are environmental and social benefits to using wood, he said.

“You can offset your greenhouse gas emissions from your car for over a decade by buying in a wood building versus concrete.”

The project still requires approval from the City of Victoria for variances such as height and parking requirements.

A smaller condo tower in nearby Esquimalt is also being built with mass timber. The Corvette Landing project at the corner of Admirals Road and Naden Way will have a 12-storey tower with 83 units.