New life for Colwood development

The dormant Colwood development site once known as Aquattro is waking up, with a new owner planning to resume building next year under a new name.

Vancouver-based Seacliff Properties Ltd. hopes to rezone the property along the Esquimalt Lagoon, and the 19 remaining unsold condominium units will be heading to the market this fall, Ian Porter, company director of real estate, said Tuesday. “We believe in it long term. We are very, very comfortable holding it for the amount of time necessary to make it work.”

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The property has been renamed Ocean Grove to reflect its waterfront location and views and the many trees on the 15-hectare site. The picturesque property slopes up from Esquimalt Lagoon to link with trails at Royal Roads University.

Ocean Grove’s location offers panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains and downtown Victoria. Its waterfront edges on the lagoon’s migratory bird sanctuary and is close to popular beaches.

Former developer Peter Daniel, who bought the site in 2007, took the project through Colwood’s approval processes. Its build out value was pegged at $350 million for 585 allowed units. Buildings were to include one-storey townhouses as well as three 12-storey towers.

But financing woes halted construction and a receiver was appointed in February 2010 to oversee the property. At that time, 88 units were completed. Three high-end condominium buildings, one townhouse project and a community clubhouse have been built. Each has some landscaping, but structures are surrounded by land filled with grasses and trees and a stream lined with bulrushes.

Two potential buyers for the property did appear, but deals were not concluded.

This year, Seacliff bought the unsold units for $6.69 million and the 10 hectares of undeveloped land for $10.2 million, under court-approved sales. It paid cash, meaning it is not linked to lenders, Porter said, adding “we can take our time to do the right thing.”

He estimated the built-out value for the development going forward is close to $250 million.

Construction depends on the market, not on a pre-determined time-line. This will be a multi-year process that could take five to 15 years, Porter said.

The unsold condo units are larger than many on the market these days, running between 1,200 and 2,500 square feet and featuring high-end amenities, such as marble counters in the bathrooms, Porter said. They were built to appeal to buyers at the peak of the housing market.

Prices have not been set for the units, which are expected to go up for sale in September or October.

As for the rezoning plan, consultation is continuing with existing condo owners and will include the nearby community. An application will go to Colwood council by September, Porter said. Ideally, the rezoning will be dealt with by early 2014.

Seacliff’s ideas will “build on the current plan,” Porter said. “It’s not going to be what I would call a radical change. It will be an evolutionary change.”

Plans are not firm yet but Seacliff favours a road design that would circulate within the site to provide better access for driving and walking, he said. The company will look at how buildings are oriented to create more open space by constructing narrower buildings that provide better views. That might mean asking for permission to build higher.

“We are very much looking at how we build this into a community,” said Porter. He would like to see a few thousand square feet developed into commercial space for a coffee shop, baked goods and a place where residents can pick up groceries such as milk.

Tennis courts, kayak storage and a swimming pool — which would use the site’s existing geothermal heating and cooling system — are being considered, he said.

Like the original plan, about 40 per cent of land will remain as green space.

Seacliff’s first building will be a condominium focused on local buyers seeking more affordable housing, Porter said. Designs and prices have not been determined, although he figures the average unit size would be about 900 square feet. Pre-sales could start late this year. It might be finished as early as summer 2014, depending on the pace of rezoning and the market.

Ocean Grove is being revived at the same time other developers are also putting up condominiums aimed at local buyers.

The $1-billion mixed-use Capital City Centre project is underway at Colwood Corners. Plans call for 12 high-rise towers, townhouses, and commercial, retail and offices.

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