Building by the Lagoon

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Any other year, it would have qualified as the biggest development project ever to hit Colwood, but what began as Lagoon Estates has some competition in a crowded field.

Developer Peter Daniel’s project wasn’t the first out there, and it’s not even the biggest anymore, but it’s farther along than most.

He has rezoning on 50 acres of brush, trees, and grassy fields that run down to the Esquimalt Lagoon, sandwiched between two tracts of single-family homes. The site was formerly zoned for the same use, but the new zoning permits townhouses, four-storey frame condos, and three steel and concrete towers.

Some indications of how much is going on in the neighbourhood: a kilometre west of Daniel’s site is Royal Bay, which is rising ­– although rather slowly – out of the gravel pit on Metchosin Road. Farther up Latoria Road, the Olympic View Golf Course has plans for 700-plus homes. Two kilometres in the other direction are four major high-rise projects close to Goldstream Avenue and Sooke Road. Only one has rezoning in hand and that one shows no signs of activity yet.

The biggest deal of all of them is the $1-billion Colwood Corners/Colwood Plaza redevelopment project headed by Les Bola, but it could face delays by Colwood council for a year until the official community plan can be revised.

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So Daniel’s project will be well ahead of the pack, and with a five-to-seven year buildout, he should be done before everyone else.

His project started as Lagoon Estates, but the real estate marketers have given it a catchy new name: Aquattro, a reference to the site’s four water features. He proposes to reroute and enhance existing Selleck Creek and to dig out and create a small estuary beside the lagoon. The plan is to introduce coho there and try to create a salmon habitat. Bee Creek, the next watercourse over, running through the DND lands and Pacific Centre’s property beside Royal Roads, was similarly rehabilitated a couple of years ago.

The new project name is appropriate, as handling water on the Aquattro site is going to be key. Two artesian wells carry groundwater up from the gravelly depths and the little stream runs all the time, even in the driest August. The whole site was acquired from the Ridley family and is 120 feet above sea level at its highest point.

The land hasn’t been used much over the years except as an unkempt tangle of broom, alder, and blackberries. Apparently, James Dunsmuir’s head gardener lived nearby and may have cultivated some of the land, said Daniel. Some old fruit trees still grow in the open spaces, and the developer will keep them. The Ridleys, who live next door to the development site on the lagoon side, have always let dog walkers and birdwatchers come and go on the property.

That will continue with the new development. Daniel is involving The Land Conservancy in the new park and will give TLC a third of the 3,200-square-foot Aquattro sales office after the development is built out to use as an interpretive centre.

One strong point that Colwood council and many of the neighbours liked was that about a third of the site – the lower portion along the lagoon shore – will be a municipal park. In exchange, Daniel got approval for higher density.

The previous zoning would have allowed about 360 single-family homes and duplex units. Until sewers came recently to Colwood, and this neighbourhood in particular, the old sewage disposal method of septic tanks created problems for water quality in the lagoon, which is a waterfowl preserve.

Daniel will build a total of 563 condos and townhouses, a reduction from the 660 units proposed at first. The market these days wants larger condos, he said, and the Aquattro units will average 1,600 square feet. Prices will be well into $400,000 and up.

Three 12-storey towers will rise at the back of the property, near the end of the buildout period. The first units to be built by Farmer Construction will be six townhouses, and a four-storey condo building of 52 units in the middle of the site.

“I had a development plan and changed it and changed it and changed it,” he said on a tour of the property. He and partner Ken McLeod and his son-in-law knocked on 341 doors in the neighbourhood asking for comments. “I found a lot more people wanted to buy in here than were against it,” he said.

There’s no commercial space in the development with the exception of a proposed bakery-deli café next door to TLC, which would generate some revenue to keep the interpretive centre open for park visitors.

Daniel’s company, Woodburn Management, is partnering with United Equities Group of Winnipeg, owners of University Heights shopping centre in Saanich, among numerous other retail, office, and hotel properties in western Canada and the U.S. Aquattro is a $500-million-plus development.

Construction is to start this summer.