The Malahat First Nation has purchased the Bamberton development site from Bamberton Properties LLP for an undisclosed price.
The sale of the 525 hectares of land about 40 kilometres north of Victoria on the Malahat adjacent to band property includes Oliphant Lake and more than triples the size of existing Malahat Nation lands. The purchase was financed through the First Nations Finance Authority.
“It’s beyond exciting for the community,” said Chief Michael Harry. “This was a tremendous opportunity for us.”
Harry said there are no immediate development plans for the site, which he described as “a turn-key business” with a number of existing tenants, including a cement company, a timber company and an engineering consulting firm.
“There are four tenants on site that are pretty big and all of them have long-term leases,” he said.
Malahat First Nation CEO Lawrence Lewis said several light to heavy industrial uses will be explored for the site, but it would be premature to get into specifics at this time.
“There are all kinds of industries that we’re taking a look at the site with and, when the time’s right, we’ll be able to discuss some of those further. But it’s early days and it’s too early to comment on any particular industry or proponent,” Lewis said.
“The plans are to continue to utilize them [the lands] as industrial and light industrial areas as it has been zoned within the regional district and to continue to explore and develop those opportunities,” Lewis said.
In 2014, the Malahat Nation and Quantum Murray, an environmental service management company, formed a joint venture to help pursue industrial service opportunities. Quantum Murray is employing members of the Malahat Nation as part of its development site on Malahat Reserve Lands.
A former cement quarry, Bamberton boasts five kilometres of waterfront land overlooking Saanich Inlet. It has been eyed for a number of development schemes over the past two decades.
Developer David Butterfield and Vancouver's Greystone Properties were unsuccessful in their attempts to create a town of 12,000 people on the site in the 1990s. That plan died amid concerns about increased traffic, environmental impact on the Saanich Inlet, water supply and sheer size.
Bamberton Properties bought the land in 2005 and also had plans for a live-work-play community with 3,200 homes to be built over 25 years, but the Cowichan Valley Regional District told the company the region needed jobs and industry rather than more homes. So the company scaled back its plans and applied instead to rezone about 140 hectares for light industrial use.
Lewis said while the First Nation intends to be a good neighbour, it has full authority over future development and does not need regional district approval.
“Our perspective is that the Malahat Nation is a government in Canada. It has the full right and jurisdiction and authority over its lands. It will work closely with the province and with Canada in terms of any further proponents or interests at the site,” he said.
“But at the same time, we’re going to be good neighbours not only with the CVRD but with individuals and folks that live nearby. We’ll take all of those things into consideration as we decide what we’re going to do going forward.”
The Malahat First Nation is a small First Nations community near Mill Bay with about 300 members, about 135 of whom are living on the Malahat lands.