Three big development projects at the south end of Vancouver Island continue to move forward, despite slower economic conditions.
Elkington, Bamberton, and Dockside are quite different from each other, but may have found support because of what they have in common: protecting and remediating the environment.
The Elkington “living forestry community,” as it’s known, won third reading of its rezoning application covering about 1,000 acres on the Malahat, south of Shawnigan Lake. Three hamlets totalling 90 homes would be built on small portions of the property in the forest.
“It’s been really good news. It was unanimous,” says Doug Makaroff, the consultant who is managing the project for the owners, the Elkington family of Victoria. “It’s not a land-use decision anymore. It’s a huge relief.”
Fourth reading is expected after seven technical engineering and fire protection conditions are met, and the way seems clear to proceed. Makaroff says there’s “very solid and consistent public support.”
The project isn’t big compared with other development projects, but it could set some big precedents for dealing with the big blocks of forest land now coming to market for real estate development and not timber cutting.
Makaroff thinks fourth and final reading could take place this summer. Then the different work begins of raising $3 million in investment to start the servicing of the property. Total cost of roads, subdividing the lots, water, sewage treatment, and all the rest adds up to about $16 millon, Makaroff says. “We’re looking at an anchor angel investor. It takes a longer time to do this than it did six months ago,” he says.
The property will have more than just a few dozen homes; Elkington hopes to have businesses related to forestry located at the site. Macdonald and Lawrence Timber Framing, now at Cobble Hill, is one example. They’ve sent a letter of intent to Makaroff saying they want to move to Elkington.
“These are the kind of people we want to have, who want to work with FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] wood,” says Makaroff.
Redevelopment of another large site up the Malahat is also moving but a bit more slowly and quietly. Bamberton is a planned community on 1,500 acres up on the Malahat, where a cement plant used to operate for decades. “It looks pretty encouraging,” says Ross Tennant of Three Point Properties, the Victoria development company.
The company hoped to be farther along by now, but no one can argue it isn’t getting close-up scrutiny by politicians. Its application for rezoning to build about 3,500 homes has been in the hands of the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s advisory planning commission (APC).
“The CVRD looked at the approach we’ve submitted and it was pretty daunting compared with what they usually get,” he says. As a result, the CVRD hired Trillium consultants to review the plans. Trillium’s been at work since October last year. “It was probably a wise move by the CVRD,” says Tennant.
The local firm, headed by former deputy minister Doug Hibbens, assembled a project team, hired Delcan to look at the engineering aspects, a transportation consultant to review the traffic plans, and Arlington Group Planning from Vancouver to look at land use. Indirectly, Three Point is paying for this outside review of its work through a large application fee it made when first submitting the development plans.
“The timing of this is a little out of our control,” says Tennant. But, Three Point expects the report soon and figures there will be “some things they’re going to challenge us on.” But overall, he hopes for a positive review and an affirmative recommendation from the APC.
One factor may be Three Point’s other big development: Dockside Green in Victoria. Members of the APC, CVRD planners, and some of the elected directors have toured the project, something of a “credibility check” for them.
“We wanted to show them that some of the things we were talking about were not conceptual,” says Tennant.
For example, they saw the Dockside sewage treatment plant, now functioning and tucked in just one storey below a bakery and café, close to the Galloping Goose and towers of condos. “The fact that it can be done in such an unobtrusive way was encouraging.”
Likewise, Bamberton plans to build its own compact wastewater treatment plant. “Bamberton can be a sustainable community,” says Tennant.
Joe Van Beleghem, Three Point’s point man at Dockside, gets a kick out of people standing right on top of the sewage treatment plant — the roof adjoins Dockside’s internal sidewalk and creek-like water feature — and nobody notices or smells a thing. It’s the ultraviolet disinfection of all the waste coming in that kills odors. “It’s pretty cool, eh? It’s put an end to a lot of stigma,” says Van Beleghem.
Dockside’s sewage plant cost about $2 million. “Even the sewage treatment system is going to turn out to be a big selling feature,” he says.
Future Dockside real estate ads could be touting “no sewer tax!” The day is coming soon when the Capital Regional District will charge every household hooked up to CRD sewers $600 to $700 a year to pay for the $1.2-billion regional sewage treatment plant. That is, every household except those in Dockside.
Dockside is also getting ready to start the biomass energy plant Nexterra technology designed in Vancouver. It has been fired up using natural gas but it’s meant to burn hog fuel or wood chips to provide hot water for the whole community.
The environmental features aside — it is a development project with big buildings, after all — the nine and 10-storey towers known as Balance with 171 condos are being occupied and another office building is being leased out. Three more office buildings for the Harbour Road corridor are under design. These are flexible units and could be used for light manufacturing as well. They’re hoping for local environmental businesses or government agencies in that sector. “They can showcase the B.C. technology we’re using” he says.
Dockside is about one-third built and 800 more residential units are on the way, along with 80,000 more square feet of office space and some added retail space, but Dockside’s 1.3 million square feet will be mostly residential. A hotel is included in the development master plan but that may not
go ahead, Van Beleghem says.
The pace of construction depends on demand. “If things start to turn around, it could accelerate.”