A brisk West Shore housing market got a little busier Wednesday as the massive Royal Bay development officially broke ground on a multi-phased project that could house as many as 7,000 people when built out over the next 15 to 20 years.
The project includes plans for 2,300 houses and a significant commercial component as it evolves. It is technically already underway. Builder GableCraft Homes has the first single-family homes coming out of the ground and the Royal Bay Community Limited Partnership, which is overseeing the entire development, has started work on a community gathering spot called Neighbourhood House.
‘We’re extremely excited about this. It’s been a long time in the making,” said Russell Tibbles, president of Royal Bay Community LP. “This was a gravel pit for 100 years and, since we acquired the site a number of years ago, we have worked hard with the community to create a vision for the future.”
The master plan for Royal Bay shows a project spreading across more than 400 acres. Called the largest development in Colwood, the community fronts 1.3 kilometres of oceanfront. Plans call for shops, cafés, an elementary school, recreation facilities and more than 100 acres of parkland.
“This marks the beginning of a new seaside community,” Tibbles said. “The chance to build a significant waterfront community comes along once in a lifetime. We have the opportunity and responsibility to create a lasting legacy that will stand the test of time.”
Royal Bay Community LP is a wholly owned subsidiary of B.C. Investment Management Corp., which bought the property — part of the former Producers Pit gravel operation — from Lehigh Heidelberg in 2012. Investment Management Corp. handles international investments worth $124 billion on behalf of 526,000 active and retired public sector employees.
Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said it’s a promising period for the city with several projects in various stages of development.
“I’m really excited to see what Royal Bay looks like in 10 years,” she said, noting the former gravel pit has been a scar on the land.
“There was some concern when [Investment Management] first bought it, but now we’re through that and it’s time to turn it green again.”
She said the increased building activity in Colwood with Royal Bay, Ocean Grove (the former Aquattro development) and Pacific Landing, which is pouring concrete for the first phase of its 115-condominium project near Esquimalt Lagoon, is meeting demand for housing and providing options for people who are otherwise getting priced out of the market.
As for infrastructure to support the developments, Hamilton pointed to the new Royal Bay Secondary School, which opened last year, and said there are talks at the regional level about B.C. Transit increasing service.
Tibbles said the first houses at Royal Bay will be available for purchase this summer.
There is no hard timeline in place for the other phases of the project.
“The timeline for the buildout will be market driven, it depends on rates of absorption,” he said, noting it could easily take 15 years or more to complete.
He said the master plan will be a living document that bends and shapes with time and demand. “It is really important to have a strong compass direction to know where we’re headed. But at the same time to do it thoughtfully, one needs to acknowledge that certain aspects of it will need to evolve with the project as it goes,” he said.
As it stands, the plan calls for a variety of housing types, including rental apartments, condominiums, townhouses and family homes of different sizes.
“We envision it as a community that will appeal to a broad range of buyer groups from very young first-time buyers to seniors and we envision we will be able to do that by having a range of product types and price points,” he said.
Tibbles said the project is unlikely to face the same kind of problems faced by other high-profile Colwood projects such as Capital City Centre and Aquattro.
Tibbles said Royal Bay shares a vision with the City of Colwood, has the strong financial backing of B.C. Investment Management Corp. and they have a development for which a lot of the heavy lifting has been done, such as the building of the high school and new roads.
Work at Capital City Centre was halted in 2013 as the company behind it, League Assets, faced bankruptcy. It has since been taken over by Onni Corp., which has a scaled-down project in mind.
Aquattro, which stopped development in 2010 when it ran out of money, was bought in 2013 by Seacliff Properties, which is breathing new life into it.