One of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, intensified by lockdowns, restrictive health measures and quarantine periods over the last 18 months, is the desire to get outside and back to nature.
The effect has played out with a renewed interest and demand for camping sites and gear, recreational vehicles and scores of people hitting hiking trails and pathways around the province.
At the same time, the pandemic has also given rise to another building boom on the Island, as people spending more time in their homes find they need more space, improved amenities and in some cases new settings.
Both of those pandemic aftershocks have rumbled through the Bear Mountain development on Skirt Mountain in Langford, which has seen a surge in interest over the past 18 months — new faces on its network of walking and biking trails and people taking a new look at the area as a place to live given its resort-like surroundings.
“It has certainly heightened awareness,” said Dan Matthews, chief executive of Ecoasis Developments, the company that bought the Bear Mountain resort and development lands in the fall of 2013. “We are getting a lot of attention lately with new real estate and new neighbourhoods.”
The mountain has been busy.
Matthews said over the past 18 months the development has added the 50-home Cypress Mews neighbourhood, 15 executive single-family homes in its Riviera neighbourhood, the 39-lot Pinehurst development is coming out of the ground, while new signage has just gone up promising a 30-home neighbourhood called Shadow Creek that will overlook the resort’s mountain golf course.
The company is drawing up plans for what could be a 180-unit development at the top of the mountain to be called Victoria Peak.
“We’ve been very active,” said Matthews, who noted they also signed on two condo developers to establish an 18-storey, multi-family tower on the site.
Matthews said with new infrastructure improvements such as the McKenzie Interchange and Bear Mountain Parkway, accessed via the Leigh Road/McCallum intersection off the Trans-Canada Highway, the resort is better connected to the Victoria core and has become more of a bedroom community.
He said with people having the desire to be closer to nature, they are also more open to living in a 750-acre resort setting that is still just 15 minutes from downtown Victoria.
“This is a large property, but you only sell it once,” he said. “So, we took a pause on development in the early stages, waiting for some of the primary on-site and off-site infrastructure to be built, recognizing that once that was done values would be better.”
It seems to have paid off with many of the lots on the resort’s largest land parcels being quickly snapped up by builders.
It’s the next push in the resort’s evolution.
Matthews estimates Bear Mountain, which has about 3,500 residents, is about one third of the way to being built out. The expectation is there will be about 10,000 people living in the area in the next 10 years.
Matthews said they have continued to invest in the two 18-hole golf courses, is working on expanding its tennis program, the trail network and in December purchased the North Langford Recreation Centre built years ago beside the resort’s Westin hotel.
Plans are underway for a new village centre, which Matthews said will curate the kind of retail that caters to the growing community.
But the growth has come with some tension.
Last week Bear Mountain told its residents that it was planning a new trail network program that would include access fees for non-residents who want to hike or bike the trails that run on private land.
The program rubbed some hikers and bikers the wrong way.
Matthews said he was a little disappointed and surprised by some comments, especially as the plans have yet to be developed and announced.
The program comes as a result of Bear Mountain residents asking for action as the trails have become busier during the pandemic and there have been dangerous situations on the golf courses involving unauthorized walkers and cyclists.
Matthews said Ecoasis should get the benefit of the doubt considering its work with the community and its philanthropic work with organizations like the Victoria Foundation and the Nature Trails Society. “When we initiate something like this we will be thoughtful,” he said. “We don’t do anything too fast and when we do it we try and be thoughtful to all stakeholders and the community – not only ours, but the larger community and the Island.”
Details of the program and a security program for the golf courses are expected this summer.