Lynn and Gord Greenhow have been watching Royal Bay grow for years, as hundreds of new housing units sprouted across the former gravel quarry below their Colwood home.
So they were delighted Thursday when a new retail complex finally opened where they could buy groceries or a bottle of wine and later this summer enjoy a restaurant meal and other services close to home.
“We’ve been waiting a year for this to open and it’s so nice to be able to walk here,” said Lynn as she picked up fruit and deli items at the new Quality Foods grocery store. “We’ve been looking down into Royal Bay since it was a gravel pit,” added Gord. “We don’t have to use the car and it’s nice to walk.”
The Commons Retail Village at Royal Bay officially opened Thursday, with Colwood Mayor Doug Kobayashi cutting a ribbon to Quality Foods and a Cascadia Liquor Store. Over the coming months, ScotiaBank, Megson FitzPatrick/Acera Insurance Services, Pure Integrative Pharmacy, Royal Bay Dental, Next Level Childcare, Noodlebox and Pizza Pizza are expected to follow.
Until now, most area residents have had to buy goods and services outside the massive development, which started in 2014.
Maribel and Ricardo Maballot, both health-care workers and residents of Royal Bay since 2021, were happy that they only had to walk across the street to buy something for dinner for their young family. “It’s so convenient for us now,” said Maribel. “It saves us time.”
Eric and Cindy St. Louis, who live next to Royal Bay at Latoria Rise, said they can now use their electric bikes for the short trip. “You can get groceries and have a beer or cider,” said Cindy, noting Quality Food’s restaurant service is licensed after 6 p.m.
Royal Bay is still very much a work in progress. Construction workers were all over a five-storey rental complex next door to the Commons as a crane ferried materials to an upper level.
In total, 3,400 homes are planned for the former gravel pit, which spans 240 acres. Developer GableCraft has built about 850 homes to date and has about 200 more underway, said chief operating officer Jason Zaytsoff. He said about 10,000 people will eventually live in the entire development as it’s built out over the years — and a few thousand more will work there.
A new Royal B.C. Museum collections building and a long-term seniors care facility are also planned for the Royal Bay area.
Construction of the $270-million museum building is expected to start this summer. The $224-million, 306-bed seniors care facility, designed with a village setting for dementia patients, is expected to get underway in two years.
Royal Bay Secondary School was built in 2015 and land has been purchased by the province for a future elementary school at the north end of the development. An expanded park is also planned, along with the existing network of parks and trails that connect neighbourhoods.
“One of the best parts of the land is that it was a quarry,” said Zaytsoff. “We’re not cutting down any trees, we’re not displacing anyone. We’re making it better. We’re adding green space and creating a community on what was just a gravel pit and piles of dirt.”
Kobayashi told residents he appreciated their patience waiting for the retail complex to open, and credited the developer and businesses for opening with the project only about half complete.
“They started it before they should have started it and they took some financial risk in doing this,” said the mayor. “They had a soft opening [Wednesday] and this place was packed. It’s going to be well supported.”
The 500-acre former gravel pit also extends to the water on the south side of Metchosin Road, where Reliance Properties and Seacliff Properties will inject $1.2 billion into the massive Royal Beach residential and commercial development.
They plan to build out the 135-acre parcel, with 1.4 kilometres of shoreline, into a collection of neighbourhoods totalling 2,850 single-family houses, townhomes and condominiums ranging from six to 12 storeys. Thousands of jobs are expected to be created in construction and in the commercial buildings and retail spaces as they rise.
Just over 47 acres of the Royal Beach site will be dedicated to public parks and green space.
Colwood’s population, now just under 20,000, is expected to grow 30% by 2038, according to the city. “In essence, Royal Bay and Royal Beach will essentially double our population,” said Kobayashi.
He said the Royal Beach developers have just submitted their first two subdivision applications for the site, and could start building later this year or early the next.
About 14,000 people are expected to live in the two developments, and with limited road options in and out, discussions are ongoing about alternatives such as park-and-ride, better use of the E&N Rail line, bike paths and potentially a commuter ferry from Royal Beach to downtown.
An initial pre-feasibility study in 2019 by B.C. Ferries supported the idea of a commuter ferry to Ship Point, saying it has the potential to reduce traffic congestion. In 2021, the Capital Regional District’s transportation committee voted to recommend a feasibility study of the project.
But Colwood Coun. Ian Ward said the ferry remains a long shot, noting several scenarios were modelled in the initial study and only one “even approached break-even in 50 years or so. “
“So financially it’s a huge black hole,” said Ward. “You would need higher levels of government not only to step up and conduct a new feasibility study but also commit to a huge amount of funding not only to get the infrastructure like a breakwater and environmental studies in place, but to keep it operating into the future.”
It’s a difficult issue for the developers as well, said Ward. “If you’re looking at a commuter ferry, where do people park? I don’t want to see a parking lot on prime waterfront property.”
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