Bear Mountain’s hibernation is over. The renewed resort and real estate company is launching its first property development project since it collapsed under a mountain of debt two years ago.
Bear Mountain Land Holdings, owned by HSBC Bank, will start relatively small and prepare 12 single-family lots for sale within a month, and possibly 60 more lots if the market responds.
Under ousted former CEO Len Barrie, Bear Mountain’s property development arm had built more than a thousand condos in high-density buildings between golf course fairways. Marking a distinct departure from that thinking, the new owners are downshifting to more single family home neighbourhoods, and far fewer condos.
“The future development plan for Bear Mountain is lower density neighbourhoods,” said Gary Cowan, CEO of Bear Mountain. “We see this as less a resort-centric development, and one more encompassing lower density and that capitalizes on the outdoor recreation opportunities on Bear Mountain.”
For the first project, called the Hedgestone, the company will prepare and service 12 lots on Hedgestone Place, next to the Mountain course 18th fairway. Similar to previous single family lot development, contractors would build and sell the homes independent of the Bear Mountain itself.
“We are excited to start working with the building community again and to get activity happening on Bear Mountain,” Cowan said. “It’s good for Langford and for everybody up here. Getting real estate going is the next step to revitalize Bear Mountain.”
The real estate arm of Bear Mountain will also prepare another 20 housing lots and then 40 lots in a phased build-out of the “Upper Hedgestone” which is on treed property between the 9th and 17th fairways of the Mountain course.
That will require a significant redesign of the course – the short 10th hole will be consumed by the development. Fortuitously, the unusual 19-hole links will easily shift to a standard 18. The Jack Nicklaus golf course design company that created the Mountain and Valley courses has approved of the alterations, Cowan said, which includes shortening the 9th hole.
“We are not changing (the golf course) casually,” he said. “We worked with Nicklaus Design to maintain the integrity and quality of the course.”
On the north side of the 18th fairway, a long-idle crane looms over the concrete shell of the unrealized Highlander tower, halted after six storeys. Cowan said Bear Mountain is working toward creating two separate condo buildings on top of the existing structure, each four to six stories, about 150 units in total. When that project would proceed isn’t set.
Cowan admits building atop the shell of the Highlander is an unusual concept, but said utilizing the existing structure makes economic sense. “There was a significant amount of money put into that project and we want to capitalize on the opportunity, rather than destroy it.”
For the broader 500-hectare property, Bear Mountain plans to apply for rezoning with Langford to allow lower density neighbourhoods spread over more land, which would reduce the amount of greenspace and forest under the existing development plan.
“We are in a process of revising all development plans at Bear Mountain to reflect lower density neighbourhoods,” Cowan said. “Under the existing zoning 90 per cent is multi-family –- highrise, high risk sites.
“We think there is pent up demand for single family lots on Bear Mountain. We are doing this in phases and won’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ll invest as the market demand is there.”
Bear Mountain currently holds about 475 single family homes and about 1,100 condominium units. Under the court-ordered division of assets, Bear Mountain Land Holdings has the right to build an additional 3,250 “doors” under the current zoning.
“We anticipate less than that. We are working on how much less,” Cowan said. “Within the next nine months we’ll move forward with an orderly development plan with revised densities.”
Under the court order, Romspen Mortgage Corp. acquired much of the commerical office and business space on Bear Mountain and CareVest Capital Inc. has rights to several hundred housing lots. Under the previous ownership, Bear Mountain was $300 million in debt before HSBC Bank initiated the creditor protection court action.
CEO of Bear Mountain since July 2010, Cowan said its been a long process to create a plan that allows orderly, market-driven property development.
“It’s been challenging, but now we are getting to the really enjoyable point of moving forward,” Cowan said. “We are really excited to arrive at the first new real estate project since we assumed ownership in 2010.”