CRESTING THE HILL THAT USED to lead down to the old gravel pit in Colwood, I have a stunning view of the ocean and the Victoria skyline on my left. But it’s what I see on the other side of the road that is truly amazing.“In the past year this place has taken a quantum leap forward and I’m grateful to be a part of it,” says Russell Tibbles, president of the Royal Bay Community Limited Partnership, which is developing the 419-acre waterfront site.
The huge gravel pit is gone and Royal Bay, a brand new, master-planned community that promises to be the new heart of Colwood, is taking shape.“It’s been a big landmark on the West Shore — it’s been a gravel pit for 100 years — and it’s not very often that the opportunity comes up to build a master-planned community right on the oceanfront,” explains Tibbles, whose background is in resort and residential development. “This is unlike any other site on Vancouver Island and I can’t think of anything else in Canada that’s comparable. To be able to develop 400-plus acres on the waterfront in a growing metropolitan area like Victoria, and establish a whole new community, that’s a once in a generation opportunity.”
After years of planning, people are now starting to move into the first Royal Bay houses, built by GableCraft Homes in a neighbourhood named The Meadow. But by the time the massive project is finished, there will be 2,300 houses and up to 80,000 square feet of commercial space, and more than 7,000 people will live here — that’s almost a 50 per cent increase in Colwood’s population.
“It’s a big job with lots of moving parts but that’s what makes it fun,” says Tibbles, who grew up in Nova Scotia and now calls the Comox Valley home. “But with this fantastic opportunity also comes a responsibility to do it right and that’s where my passion lies — it doesn’t just have to be master planned, it also needs to be master implemented.” Far from a typical subdivision, Royal Bay’s mandate is to be a progressive and sustainable 21st-century community with bike lanes, trails and an extensive park system that includes a linear park running through the site providing habitat and storm water functions.
Even more impressive, Tibbles says one fundamental mission of the planning team is to make sure every home is within a five-minute walk of a park.“In the past, suburban developments tended to have large areas of residential segregated from large areas of commercial and you’d have to get in your car,” the 51-year-old explains. “We’re seeking to have a vibrant community with shops, schools and recreation so you don’t necessarily have to get in your car if you want to do something.”
A quarter of the site, more than 100 acres, has been set aside as green space. That includes the development’s 1.3 kilometres of beachfront, which is slated to be a public park for everyone to enjoy. “In BC, we’ve become really good at essentially privatizing waterfront and we didn’t want to do that,” Tibbles says.
With the development being done in phases and potentially spanning 15 to 20 years, it could be some time before the beach park is done. In the meantime, a temporary Royal Bay Beach Park provides access to the waterfront, picnic tables, a play area, space for food truck vendors and kayak rentals and even two Olympic-size volleyball courts.
But Tibbles says his favourite feature is The Commons — which will be Royal Bay’s commercial core — along with theocean views and the “big sky” first noted by renowned painter Emily Carr as “a place of high skies, blue and deep.”“In 1936, Emily Carr actually spent a summer camped out here and she painted,” Tibbles explains. “So often on the coast we’re up against the trees and it can be dark, but here it’s bright and it’s our job to take those natural attributes, like the water and big sky, and to frame them.
”It’s not always an easy job and over the years Tibbles has learned that when it comes to development, slow is fast.“At first the process to build consensus seemed exceedingly slow when I was working on my last project, but I came to realize that it’s the only way to go,” he says.
“A slow, deliberate approach actually gets to the finish line faster.” And despite spending a lot of time in his car every week driving between the Comox Valley and Victoria, the father of two wouldn’t have it any other way.“It’s an exciting project and it’s definitely worth the drive.”