The latest phase of Kettle Creek Station is a muddy work in progress, a contrast to small manicured lawns that hem in polished rows of houses in one of Langford’s newest neighbourhoods.
In the past year and a half, the development coined as “condos on the ground” ignored the recession and barreled forward with an experiment to offer cottage-style homes as small as 400 square feet.
Nobody has bit on a house that size, but 107 houses from 650 to 950 square feet are populating the ever-growing Kettle Creek Station neighbourhood. A handful of lots remain unsold and 42 more are being prepped in the next phase.
“This project has worked out even better than I hoped. They are cute little places. It’s small lot, but it doesn’t feel closed in,” said Les Bjola, president of Turner Lane Developments, who is developing Kettle Creek Station with Vance Walle. “Our goal was selling six homes per month. We’re averaging 6-1/4, so we are ahead of target slightly.”
People have a hard time conceptualizing the 400 square foot micro-homes, Bjola said, so he plans to build a couple in the next phase.
“Because it’s a new product, people can’t wrap their minds around it, they don’t realize how roomy they are,” he said. “It’s one of those things you have to show people.”
About 30 home buyers have plugged into geothermal heating and cooling, an option for some of the lots in the development. Houses go from $269,000 to $420,000, but in a recovering economy, paying $20,000 extra is often too much for buyers, despite the long-term incentive.
“It tells you that people are struggling. An extra $20,000 is expensive,” he said. “But geothermal is so effective in small homes. Once it’s in they aren’t paying much in utilities.”
Early this year, Bjola expects to start the project’s first of three six-storey condominium buildings, which will also act as the commercial hub of the area. The first steel and concrete building is planned as 54 units, part of about 200 units total between the buildings.
“We believe the market is there,” he said. “You have to find that magic match between parking, structure and cost. Because it’s broken into three buildings we can do it. If it was a 200-unit building, we’d never do it.”
Next door to Kettle Creek on a four hectare wedge near the E&N rail line, Turner Lane Developments plans to break ground early this year on Landing at Langford Lake — a project now split between single family lots, townhomes and condominium buildings. When zoning was passed a few years ago, the Landing was initially envisioned as all condominium units.
Bjola is now looking to build 17 house lots, 36 townhouses and possibly four buildings going up to 12 storeys, although that’s not set in stone. If the market is strong enough, the towers would still be five years out. A strip of treed parkland abutting the lake will remain in place, setting the development back from water.
“We’re designing for four buildings, but that can change,” Bjola said. “We’re thinking five years from now, which is a long time. The world can change five times in five years.”
Bjola said trying to gauge the Greater Victoria real estate market takes a lot of research and listening to what price points and features buyers are looking for. For Kettle Creek, the developers build systematically and don’t build before houses are sold.
“This is a tough business. You have to have a good team that knows what they are doing,” Bjola said. “You also have to have a bank that believes in you.”