The West Shore is Getting Greener

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It’s green, the developers are concerned about the environment, and it’s out in… Langford.

It’s a 6,000-home subdivision in the hills on the fringes of the municipality, but the similarities with Bear Mountain end there.

Visualize a much bigger Dockside Green among the trees and rocks, and you have an idea of Westhills. A third of the housing will be single-family houses and town homes.

Westhills’ vision statement promises a place like older, established neighbourhoods, the kind “that offered residents a richer community.” The website, www.westhillsbc.com, is full of old-time pictures, kids with bikes, Dad and junior fishing, and a street of small homes.

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It aims to be the first LEED neighbourhood development in Canada. Not only will the individual buildings conform to sustainable, green building requirements, but also the whole subdivision will adopt LEED standards, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Numerous features will make this a different sort of subdivision. Westhills wants a central heating utility to serve all the homes and buildings, drawn from geothermal sources deep in the ground and possibly from pipes laid into Langford Lake.

Another difference will be wastewater treatment. Langford doesn’t have storm drains; it requires new developments to provide on-site infiltration of any runoff. Westhills is also proposing a treatment plant to recycle water for irrigating lawns and gardens and for flushing toilets.

Plans include using permeable concrete pavers for much of the subdivision’s hard surfaces, so rainwater soaks into the ground instead of running off.

“In a green project where stormwater is an issue, you have to look at first not creating stormwater,” said Darlene Tait, director of marketing.

This is TND, or traditional neighbourhood design, sometimes called the New Urbanism. It’s a U.S.-led movement in community planning that has produced such highly successful communities as Seaside, Florida and Celebration, the residential development next door to Disney World.

A TND development is compact, pedestrian oriented, and bicycle friendly; features smaller homes oriented to the street and a few minutes from the town centre; reduces auto use; and puts garages at the back. (Westhills isn’t building back alleys, so the homes with garages will still be up front facing the street.) Tait also uses the acronym TOD, for transit-oriented development.

The Westhills website links to numerous resources for green design, items like “Porches with Purpose,” about the value of front porches for a community.

The subdivision is roughly an upside-down L, with one arm touching Humpback Road and the Sooke Hills regional park reserve. The other piece of the letter drops down to Sooke Road near Luxton. Aside from some logging over the decades, the area hasn’t seen any development.

Some of the 1,250 individual houses will be sited on lots as small as 20 per acre, or 2,153 square feet a rectangle — not much more than 40 by 50 feet, about three times the density of older suburban subdivisions. Some places will spread out, at a density of up to four homes per acre. There will be 1,200 townhouses and the community plan has 3,550 multi-storey condos, as high as 20 storeys in 16 separate buildings. And eventually there’s a million square feet of commercial space. It’s all expected to take two decades to build out.

Mixing housing types throughout Westhills means a “healthy community” that welcomes people of all income levels, says Tait. There is no plan yet for parcelling out pieces of the site, but different builders and developers will be involved in construction.

Westhills Land Corp. is owned by the low-profile Stewart family of Victoria — Reginald Stewart and Royston Stewart are the directors — who also have a number of apartment buildings in the city.

The Westhills development team includes Jim Hartshorne, formerly of Birch Builders and now Keycorp Consulting, who has built numerous condo projects in Greater Victoria and has his own single-family subdivision under way elsewhere in Langford. He’s development manager.

Besides Tait, formerly an associate of developer David Butterfield, another key person is Jordan Fisher, the project’s environmental planner/manager. Community design is by Will Peereboom of Victoria Design Ltd., who, like Hartshorne, moved his business, Victoria Design Ltd., out to Langford when the building boom took off.

Westhills’ offices in the new Hull’s Corner retail centre that stretches back from Jacklin Road are a “community planning centre” and a display area for some of the products and materials, like cork flooring, wheatstraw pressboard for cabinets, and paint that gives off fewer fumes, proposed for use in the homes.

The company held three workshops on green building products at the centre and was “overwhelmed” by curious contractors and individuals who wanted to know about more sustainable construction products and building methods. Tait expects the first neighbourhood of Westhills to open in the fall, although it’s still at least a year before anyone will live in the project. The eight homes will range from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet — some with garages, some without — a typical street of show homes for the new community. This nucleus of the first neighbourhood centre in the development (there will be three such centres) will be located near Langford Lake and the E&N Railway line, a key part of the development.

Westhills Land Corp. is promising $1 million towards a station for eventual passenger service and is a strong supporter, along with other Langford developers, of C4CR (Communities for Commuter Rail), the $16-million commuter-rail proposal. “I would bet a lot of money that train will be up and running in two years,” says Tait.

The development will be a link in southern Vancouver Island’s rail-trail network, part of the missing piece over the Malahat between the Galloping Goose and the Trans-Canada Trail that now ends at the south end of Shawnigan Lake.

The key figures in Westhills have experience on other development projects but, according to Tait, this one will be like nothing else built in Greater Victoria.

“Who’s your target market? It’s smart people,” says Tait.

The subdivision is a “healthy community,” one that welcomes people of all income levels. It’s a place that will de-emphasize the automobile — narrow internal roads, bike and walking paths, car-share co-op memberships, retail and other services located minutes from homes, a shuttle bus within Westhills.  “People will certainly drive or commute, but it’s about choices,” Tait says.

“We have to plan so the car is no longer an appendage. If we can create a place where people can shed a secondary, or even a primary vehicle, then we will have succeeded.”