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Cottages now heart of Silver Spray as controversial Sooke projects gets underway

Michael Thornton has waited nearly two decades to bring people out to Possession Point in East Sooke to show off the heart of his Silver Spray development.

Michael Thornton has waited nearly two decades to bring people out to Possession Point in East Sooke to show off the heart of his Silver Spray development.

The Vancouver developer’s dream for the controversial project is finally taking shape as work starts on the first oceanfront cottage showhome and a series of decks along the prime oceanfront land.

“It’s taken 17 years to be an overnight success,” Thornton said while showing off the gem of his 70-hectare Silver Spray lands. “This is going to be spectacular.”

A seven-hectare portion, called Sooke Point at Silver Spray, will eventually feature 95 oceanfront or oceanview cottages.

Thornton’s company, Home Equity Developments is backed by a group of more than 1,400 investors. It bought the land in 1996 from Ross and Wendy Cabeen for just under $4 million.

Thornton envisioned an entire community with a resort hotel, homes and various amenities, but the project ran into hurdles at every turn.

“It’s been 17 years worth of hopes, dreams, angst and patience and riding the wave of the world economy,” Thornton said, adding he’s spent too much to count over the years on development, legal and other costs.

The overall development initially called for 274 homes, a lodge, golf course and marina.

But that original plan created plenty of controversy in its early years with vocal opponents dead against development on oceanfront land. It was initially killed by the Capital Regional District, before a later plan was approved in 2002. There were also lawsuits filed on both sides and Thornton was at one point awarded $52,250 in damages after winning a defamation suit against five local residents.

Over the years and through controversy that split the East Sooke region, the development has evolved into its current form.

Millions have been spent on roads, lighting, power and water. Thornton spent $1.6 million for a pump station to service higher-elevation lots, built a reservoir and ran a water line costing more than $4 million across Sooke Harbour and along more than five kilometres of road. Now the entire development boasts 127 lots — 50 of which have been sold for $14.5 million to help finance the project, though only a handful of them have single-family homes built on them. There is a 115-berth marina being excavated while the remaining single-family lots remain on the market.

At the heart of it all sits Possession Point and its 2,850 feet of oceanfront.

“This is where we always envisioned the destination resort, something with eco-tourism and a world-class flavour,” Thornton said. “This is where Victoria meets the wild west coast.”

While it won’t be a destination resort by traditional definitions, Thornton believes it could be the next best thing. After scouring the world for possible options he hit upon the ocean villa idea — Canadian style. That means west-coast styled cottages.

Thornton said their zoning allows for both full-time residency in the cottages, but he’s hoping most buyers will see the cottages as seasonal retreats. “We’re hoping most owners, when they are not in use will put them under rental management,” he said. Thornton has held talks with a number of hotel management companies to consider the possibility.

The cottages will range in size from 600 to 850 square feet per floor. There are bungalows as well as two and three-level options. Prices will start in the high-$200,000 range, though most are likely to be in the high-$300,000 range and beyond.

They could be the vanguard for a community.

Thornton said the long-term vision would include a restaurant, spa and other services.

He hopes to have a show cottage done in the next month with sales to begin in July and August.

Thornton feels both relief that it’s actually happening and some disbelief that it’s taken nearly 20 years. “I never went to land-development school. I thought how difficult could it be when you have a beautiful piece of property,” he said with a laugh. “But there are no regrets. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

That’s why he kept the Silver Spray name in the Sooke Point project.

“Bad or good, it’s our history. It means a lot to me. We didn’t go through what we went through just to abandon it,” he said. “There was a big battle and it was controversial because it was such a special piece of property.”

Most of that battle died down after the CRD approved an earlier project proposal in 2002, and there has been very little controversy since the area was annexed by Sooke in 2005 and all decisions over zoning and changes were up to Sooke council.

Sooke mayor Wendal Milne said his council has endorsed Thornton’s most recent plans.

“It’s not much different from what was planned originally,” he said. “We think it’s a good thing for that site and this summer [Thornton] will spend money to promote it and get a show cottage and see what the market will take.”

Milne said he is surprised it has taken so long to start building, chalking the delays down to the market in recent years.

“I think he’s changed focus a bit and now he’s looking at a different type of market,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property and the concept he’s into now I think is a good one.”

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