Hauling in former gravel pit lands catches attention of Colwood

Colwood has asked B.C. Assessment Authority to take another look at the Lehigh gravel pit properties

Colwood has asked B.C. Assessment Authority to take another look at the Lehigh gravel pit properties after trucks started hauling material off the waterfront site.

Colwood city engineer Michael Baxter said Colwood has informed B.C. Assessment about operations at the site for the past few months. “They are hauling sand out of there,” Baxter said. “We passed that information to (the assessment authority).”

B.C. Assessment reclassified most of the 243-hectare former gravel pit in 2009 from light industrial to commercial and residential, resulting in at least a $1.2 million property tax loss for Colwood.

That reassessment was one of key reasons why the City passed an unpopular 16 per cent tax hike that year.

In 2010, Colwood was forced to pay Lehigh $720,000 after the company successfully appealed its property tax assessments from 2008 forward, the year it stopped industrial gravel operations.

But if Lehigh has resumed some level of light industry at the site, Colwood is eager to tax the land as such. The land remains under a mining permit, although there is no indication the production of gravel and sand has resumed.

“It’s our job to make the (land) assessment where it should be, and it’s their job to keep the assessment as low as possible,” Baxter said. “No one holds enmity over this, everyone is just doing their jobs.”

Dave Clark, with Lehigh Northwest Materials, said trucks are hauling out a relatively small quantity of “preload” material, as part of an outstanding obligation to decommission the property.

“It’s part of closing down the site. It’s something we’ve got to do anyway,” Clark said. “Once that’s done, that’s it.”

Known as the Royal Bay lands, the vast property near Metchosin Road at Latoria Road has sat idle since gravel operations ceased, as the land waits for a developer with deep pockets. It has the potential for a large residential and waterfront development, on the order of 2,800 units.

In October, former Colwood mayor Dave Saunders said the property had found a buyer. Clark confirmed a party is looking at the site, but nothing concrete has emerged.

“People are looking at it,” he said. “If they are satisfied, they might want to buy it.”