The vast and long empty Royal Bay lands in Colwood have found a buyer, a $91-billion pension investment trust based in Victoria.
B.C. Investment Management Corp. has entered into a deal with Lehigh Hanson (known locally as Lehigh Northwest Materials) to buy 419 acres of Royal Bay property. BCIMC was scheduled to take ownership of 296 acres Wednesday, and the remainder over the next months and years.
It’s too early to say when shovels will be in the ground, but Gwen-Ann Chittenden, spokesperson for BCIMC, said the company will start drawing up a detailed, phased development plan for the land.
“BCIMC is looking at the Royal Bay project as a large mixed-use and residential development,” Chittenden said. “It’s a significant development that requires careful consideration and planning, and market conditions that support it.”
The existing zoning and master plan for the former gravel pit allows for 2,800 single family homes, a village centre and a linear public park on 1.5 kilometres of waterfront property. The site also has potential for a marina.
The Sooke School District owns 15.6 acres within the property for one of its new high schools, which is in the planning stage.
Chittenden agreed BCIMC likely won’t deviate extensively from the existing master plan, but stressed that it’s still too early to know the housing density and detailed configuration of the project.
“We are looking at developing Royal Bay in phases. Until planning and approvals are done, and market conditions are there, it’s difficult to identify a timeline,” she said. “But we are committed to the project and committed to developing (Royal Bay).”
Lehigh didn’t advertise its asking price for the land and BCIMC won’t say what it is paying. Over the years of rumours and false starts with buyers, the asking price was thought to be between $30 to $50 million.
Lehigh has been trying to sell the land since it shut down 100 years of gravel operations at the end of 2007. About 300 homes exist on what was once a 640-acre industrial operation, but most of the land straddling Latoria Road and Metchosin Road remains weedy dirt lots.
BCIMC, a Crown-created trust corporation that operates at arm’s length from government, invests pension funds in a worldwide portfolio for 455,000 public sector workers in B.C. It is headquartered on Jutland Road in Victoria.
Chittenden described BCIMC as a prudent and conservative institutional investment company that, in terms of real estate, only invests in “premium properties.”
The trust corporation owns $12 billion worth of properties and buildings in Canada alone, including, locally, Westshore Town Centre, Fraser Tolmie Apartments, Delta Hotel and Resort and Harbour Towers Hotel. Across the water, it owns a raft of high-end addresses in downtown Vancouver.
“The Royal Bay lands we see as a long term investment that will complement our existing real estate portfolio,” Chittenden said.
“We look for premium properties that offer stable income and returns for our clients. Royal Bay is considered premium property with potential returns clients look for.”
The Royal Bay project is the second major development announced in Colwood this year, after the billion-dollar Capital City Centre broke ground at Colwood Corners in January.
Mayor Carol Hamilton said the land sale is good news for the economy of city. The character of the development needs to “blend” with the nearby border with rural Metchosin, she said.
“This is exciting for Colwood. Royal Bay will be another anchor-point for the community,” Hamilton said, “the way the Colwood Corners development is an anchor for that side of the city.”