Waterfront properties ride a rising tide

In Sidney, Seaport West, a small-scale residential/commercial project, is the latest waterfront tenant, while in Sooke, Mariner’s Village, a larger blend of residential and commercial oceanfront development, carves a new face for the former fishing and logging community.

An estimated $300-million project, Mariner’s Village is piloted by Mike Barrie of Condor Properties. Planned for the 12-acre property near Sooke’s town core are townhomes, condominiums, a marina, and a blend of retail and commercial premises including a farmers’ market, eateries, shops, library, fitness club, and municipal offices.

“The original vision is to build a quality project on the ocean that will increase in value,” says Darin Chamberlain of DC Marketing, which is handling the development’s residential sales.

In late January, homeowners began moving into Navigator’s Point, Mariner’s first phase. The 33 condos (including eight penthouses) and 16 townhomes range in price from $249,000 to almost $1 million, Chamberlain says.

One notable feature, and a nod to Sooke’s year-round mild climate, is that each residence has substantial deck space. Some units contain a full outdoor kitchen, hot tub, and fireplace.

Phase one buyers include the predictable clientele: predominantly 50 and over, semi-retired, empty nesters, or purchasing a second residence.

Each unit also boasts a marina slip. With that in mind, Chamberlain hit the road in February and March, attending boat shows in Alberta, hoping to attract oil money. “When things are going well in Alberta, people there want a place here,” the veteran real estate agent says.

While the property is zoned for 400 to 500 doors, dependent on strata limitations, Chamberlain notes that build-out will be based on the marketplace. He figures work will continue over the next three to five years. The second phase will be the commercial component, with residential atop ground-floor businesses.

{advertisement} “We want amenities for the residents to be close by,” Chamberlain says.

Phase three will be high-end homes near the Sooke Harbour, along with a pub.

To create the quality project he envisioned, Barrie travelled with Sooke council members a few years ago to various California seaside towns to get a feel for such a development, Chamberlain says.

When Chamberlain first laid eyes on the Sooke property, which housed a motel and not much else, he was struck by how pure and beautiful it was. “It was a hidden treasure,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to take advantage of that.”

Easing the way was the District of Sooke’s 2009 Town Centre Revitalization Bylaw, which, over a three-year period, waives a portion of development cost charges, building fees, and property taxes for developments built in Sooke’s core.

“The whole overarching intent is to densify the town centre and keep the outside green,” says District of Sooke CAO Evan Parliament. “It’s a very creative bylaw. No one else is doing it.”

To take advantage of the bylaw, a development must be LEED-certified and/or provide high-density residential or affordable housing.

While money is lost due to property tax exemptions and reductions in building fees and development cost charges, the resulting new development will generate tax dollars, albeit not fully recovered until about five years down the road.

Parliament notes that the taxes collected will be reinvested in Sooke’s town centre. And there’s a possibility of expanding the town core boundary so that more developments can take advantage of the bylaw, he says.

While the bylaw is innovative, with downtown land prices in Sooke that can be $1 million per acre, “the enticements are small compared to land costs,” Parliament notes. Still, it’s a start. “We’re not talking big bucks here, but it’s something to draw business to Sooke.”

Mariner’s Village is building to LEED standards and doing a high-density development, so it’s enjoying partial tax, building fee, and development cost relief, Parliament says.

In Sidney, two non-LEED, West Coast-design buildings have replaced a 50-stall parking lot. On the 17,000-square-foot lot now stand one building with two townhomes and 3,000 square feet of retail space, while the second structure contains eight townhomes.

The $5.3-million project broke ground in July 2011 and is due for completion in July this year, says Mike Cronquist, vice-president of business development for the Marker Group, developer of Seaport West.

Marker Group, owned by Central Saanich resident Grant Rogers, also developed the next-door Pier Building, which includes a hotel, spa, and residences.

A second investor is U.S. telecom billionaire Craig McCaw, who owns nearby James Island. McCaw wanted his company, COM Investments, to partner with Seaport West. “He really believes in Sidney and the Peninsula,” Cronquist says.

The latest Marker Group/McCaw venture has an eye on a particular type of client. “This is a desirable location for people looking to retire or close to retirement. So accessibility was something we wanted to address,” Cronquist says.

Of the 10 townhomes, two have exclusive elevators, four others share an elevator that takes each of them right to their townhome, and the remaining four units have street-level entrances. Parking is underground.

The townhomes also carry low, mid-range, and high price tags, giving buyers a choice. Early in the new year, three were quickly snapped up, one in each price range, Cronquist notes.

The ground-level commercial space of the one building can house two or three tenants. Businesses selling marine clothing or supplies would be a good fit, Cronquist says.

While Sidney doesn’t have a bylaw offering tax and development cost holidays, it has aided revitalization of its waterfront with its Downtown Waterfront Local Area Plan that encourages pedestrian-friendly streets.

Cronquist notes that Marker Group had a sound relationship with Sidney council and town staff. “Things flowed easily,” he says.