What ever happened to Bamberton?

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You’d think if things really do come in threes, maybe this is Three Point Properties’ turn to redevelop Bamberton.

More than a year after the $10-million cleanup of the leftovers from decades of cement making, the east-facing site between the Trans-Canada Highway and Saanich Inlet is mostly quiet. However, you could also say a lot more has happened to date under ownership of the Victoria development company than under any of its predecessors.

David Butterfield’s ambitious plans for a self-contained community of upwards of ten thousand people came to an end. Then Concert Properties assumed control of the site for the landowners, a group of union pension funds, but did not proceed.

And before any of them, there was ARM Industries, which proposed a ferrochromium smelter beside the deepwater docks. Cement still comes and goes from those docks, but they are used only as a distribution centre for the material barged over from the mainland.

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If anyone thought Bamberton might be building by now, there are still some hurdles. Three Point asked for rezoning in November 2006, then amended its application a year later based on what the community told them. Four public meetings produced lots of comments from locals, and Three Point has made changes — the biggest one being eliminating all homes from the south end, now to be left as a park.

Another delay has come from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, which has commissioned an independent study by a consultant — eight applied for the job — of the pros and cons of building thousands of homes there. That has a July 31 deadline.

“These processes take a lot of time,” said Michelle Mahovlich, manager of development for Three Point.

An interesting wrinkle is that the elected official, regional director for area A, Mike Walker, who would normally be point man for the CVRD on Bamberton and other developments at the south end of the district, is not running again. Walker, who also has a graphic design business and sign shop, will try for the Liberal nomination in the May 2009 provincial election. So it means a rookie for electoral area A after the November municipal voting, someone who will have to get up to speed on all the development issues, which likely means more delays. Still, Walker suggests that Bamberton could proceed to a public hearing in the fall, weeks before municipal elections.

Three Point president Ross Tennant said the company still hoped to get the public hearing this year, “but I don’t know how realistic that hope is.”

So far since the big cleanup, the company has been collecting certificates — it has three of four approvals necessary to earn a certificate of compliance from the province. The last one to come regards the soil storage site, the sealed mass of material the company cleaned up around the cement plant and piled in the old limestone quarry.

It put there an amazing 800,000 tonnes of building rubble and by-products from cement production, or 110,000 dump-truck loads. Some metals are contained in the material, which were a by-product of making cement by heating and grinding the limestone in giant kilns. The leftovers are now concentrated in the old quarry and sealed under a meter-thick layer of clay, with a 10-acre green space on the surface.

The Bamberton development plans used to seem massive, but the rest of the South Island has just caught up and passed the scale of this project. Three Point’s plans for 3,200 homes are smaller than both Bear Mountain and Westhills, 20 minutes south in Langford.

Walker points out that already in area A, including Bamberton, Mill Bay, and the Malahat right down to the border with the CRD, 1,000 housing units have been approved within the Mill Bay urban containment boundary, which the CVRD pushed out last year to incorporate 430 units at a new retirement development called Ocean Terrace on the south side of Mill Bay, a project of Victoria developer David Galbraith.

It’s an almost-square 135-acre site at Butterfield Road and the east side of Trans-Canada Highway, on the hillside just above Mill Bay village. It promises smart growth principles and a “sustainable, active living neighbourhood” with lots of walking and cycling trails.

There’s a Mattick’s Farm-like “village green” — not surprising, as Ocean Terrace architects deHoog and Kierulf designed that Saanich project beside Cordova Bay golf course. City Spaces of Victoria, planners of the big Royal Bay subdivision in Colwood’s gravel pit, are the Mill Bay development’s marketing consultants.

Across the highway is Mill Springs Village, a more traditional-style 393-lot strata subdivision of big building sites of 9,000 to 12,000 square feet. This partnership of Victoria developers Fraser McColl and Gerald Hartwig started in 2002 and has five more phases to go before completion about 2012.
Then there’s Elkington Estate Forest, a 385-hectare tract of second-growth forest adjoining the CRD watershed and Sooke Hills park reserve, which has been a family retreat for 60 years and is now surrounded by logged-off private land west of Shawnigan Lake. The Trans-Canada Trail — the rest of the Galloping Goose on the north side of the Malahat — runs close to the southeast corner of the Elkington land.

The late Eric Elkington bought the property in 1945, and his descendants want to carry out sustainable forestry practices. So family members can afford to continue living in the forested area, they’re proposing a “living forest community.” In size, it’s comparable to Bamberton, but the concept has three compact “hamlets” totalling about 80 homes. About 85 per cent of the Elkington land would be covenanted to prevent future development. Small-scale logging would continue, like Merve Wilkinson’s forest at Yellow Point, cutting no more than one per cent of the timber annually.

Set aside Bamberton’s ambitious plans, and just the 1,000 homes already rezoned in Mill Bay could boost Mill Bay’s population more than 60 per cent over its present 3,500 residents. If it was an incorporated municipality, that would make it bigger than Highlands or Metchosin in terms of population.

So we shouldn’t be surprised if the outcome of the consulting study, public meetings, and hearing on rezoning at the CVRD board is to tap on the brakes.  
Tennant says he’s “hopeful and optimistic that we’re doing the right thing” but does acknowledge the “white knuckle” nature of what Three Point is doing on the hillside above Saanich Inlet.

“We’re hopeful that we’re going to get the green light early in the new year, but I would have said that last year.”

“Former cement plant ready for rebirth” was the headline in a Globe and Mail story eight months ago. The birth notice may be premature just yet, but stay tuned.