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Esquimalt developer hopes to see bigger, bolder projects amid housing crisis

GMC Projects recently had a 26-storey residential building approved
Ben Mycroft, regional chair of the Urban Development Institute, says right now could be a good time for development companies to propose bigger, bolder ideas despite economic uncertainty. (Bailey Seymour/News Staff)

A provincial representative for land and property developers says he hopes to see experienced developers with good track records propose bolder housing projects amid uncertainty in the real estate market.

On Monday, April 8, the Township of Esquimalt voted to approve a building permit for an amenity-packed, 26-storey residential building – double the height of the current tallest building in the municipality.

“We have to be ambitious in today’s environment. I mean we cannot look back at the way that we’ve approved and undertaken housing over the last several decades, and expect that can be the approach that we take going forward,” said Jordan Milne, president of GMC Projects, the developer who proposed the building.

On top of the Esquimalt property, permits were approved for a 97-unit GMC development in Sidney, which Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said was “much-needed multi-unit and townhouse residences.”

Both projects saw support from community leaders, politicians, First Nations, and current tenants of GMC properties, support that Milne said is few and far between when it comes to development firms in the area.

“Projects like GMCs are fantastic demonstrations of unique solutions that are providing housing, and amenities in a time when we are desperately needing those,” said Ben Mycroft, regional chair for Urban Development Institute, which represents individuals involved in all facets of land development. “They’re a well-managed and well-capitalized developer with a good track record, and they have a unique project proposal and a great amenity package, so I think that municipalities should be, especially if they’re OCP compliant, approving these projects right now, because that’s the clearly the signal that the province is sending.”

Mycroft said right now, some “second-tier” developers have taken on too much debt, and some projects are struggling, which can be a good opportunity for developers with the capital and experience to take on new projects as properties go up for sale, however, some landowners still feel that their land is worth a lot even if the market doesn’t agree, construction costs are rising, and some municipalities are enforcing bigger fees for developers.

Despite economic challenges, he thinks bigger developers with good track-records, like GMC, could be in a position to define projects over the next market cycle.

“The only challenge is on the infrastructure side, and just recognizing that developers should be made to pay a fair share,” he said. “I think that there also is a need to generate new housing going forward, and we don’t want to have this kind of big, black hole gap period when the province is announcing all these housing targets.”

GMC Projects however, is not a leading or world-class developer like Polygon or Concord Pacific in Vancouver; they are family owned and they’re based in Esquimalt, with a portfolio that focuses on the Capital Regional District with some properties in Vancouver, Washington, and Manitoba.

“A lot of developers spend a lot of money marketing themselves as to why they’re so great, and why they’re the best or it might be the most luxurious, and we try to let our actions speak for ourselves,” said Milne.

The Esquimalt development, along with most of their other properties, features millions of dollars worth of amenities and community spaces like dog parks, gyms, music rooms, rooftop patios and community kitchen spaces.

Jamie McCallum, who advocated in favour of the Esquimalt development, approached GMC Projects in 2020 with an idea to open a salon that would use tip money to give free haircuts.

“[During the COVID-19 pandemic] I wasn’t making enough money, and a normal management company wouldn’t let me in based on my income, they would be like, ‘You can’t afford it,”’ McCallum said. “But I had an idea that I thought could work, and then I approached [GMC] and they said yes, and it’s been good ever since.”

He said they have done good work and they paid for broken appliances and food that went bad when his freezer broke, and he has access to a rooftop patio and community space in a separate building on the same block. They also support fundraising initiatives and community events McCallum leads.

“The right thing to do, in my opinion, is if you’re going to have a transformational development, regardless of what size it is, that site is going to be a transformational development,” said Milne. “How do we make a transformational development that delivers the most amount of good to the community and creates the most amount of opportunity for success for community and healthy living to succeed.”

Among economic woes and uncertainty in the development industry, Milne hopes to set a precedent for future developments in the CRD.

“Once you see people who are willing to be bold and ambitious, and take that approach, and they’re successful, other people will follow suit. It’s when it’s when despite all of that, you still get a no from a council, that the message that’s sent is ‘Well, then I’ll just do the minimum that’s required,”’ he said. “We’re going to have to recognize we’re on an island, we’re surrounded by water, agricultural land reserve urban containment boundaries, we’re going to need to go up in order to be able to provide the housing that’s needed.”

Read More: Township of Esquimalt approves permits for 26-storey residential building

Bailey Seymour

About the Author: Bailey Seymour

After graduating from SAIT and stint with the Calgary Herald, I ended up at the Nanaimo News Bulletin/Ladysmith Chronicle in March 2023
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