Residents living around the proposed Royal Bay project in Colwood worry that “unneighbourly” site preparation may be an indication of the developer’s commitment to future work on the project.
Changes to the City of Colwood’s 1996 Royal Bay area plan – which would amend the city’s official community plan – passed third reading last week following a short public hearing. The final vote on the changes could come as early as the June 23 council meeting.
Councillors heard a variety of complaints at the hearing, with residents citing everything from ground-shaking work on the former gravel pit causing cracks in foundations and retaining walls, to unabated clouds of dust wafting through neighbourhoods and crews ignoring noise bylaws.
Mayor Carol Hamilton, who didn’t answer questions at the public hearing, as third reading calls for no council discussion, said she understands what residents are going through.
“I think they’re feeling a little left out of the loop,” she said. “For the long-term residents, they’ve been putting up with issues around that area for a long time, not necessarily what this development is creating, but the years of the gravel pits and the trucks and the dirt and the noise.”
After the gravel pit was closed by Lehigh in 2007, there was a break from activity on the site for more than five years. With massive amounts of earth moving done in the past year and the new Royal Bay secondary under construction on the property, the site has been as busy as the gravel pit days.
Paul Fenske, principal with design and urban planning firm Ekistics, which is working with the city on behalf of developer B.C. Investment Management Corporation, said bcIMC chose to go full speed ahead on the necessary site upgrades to avoid subjecting nearby residents to a much longer dusty, noisy process.
“The site was left in an unfinished and unstable state,” he said of what Lehigh left bcIMC, which bought the property in 2012. The company spent an estimated $25 million on earth-moving, regrading, managing erosion and stormwater runoff in 2013, Fenske said, with the idea of completing much of that work sooner than later.
Addressing an argument by resident Bob McLean of Addlington Place that a grass hydroseeding initiative done early this year to cut down on the dust was plowed under after a short time, Fenske reiterated that the plan is to get the site work done as quickly as possible.
“It’s unfortunate that (bcIMC’s) intent in trying to be a good neighbour has been perceived as not being a good neighbour,” he said.
Not everyone focused entirely on the negative aspects of the work at the hearing.
Roger Conrod of Perimeter Place, whose wife has asthma and has been struggling with the dust, nonetheless noted, “you have to give a bit to gain a bit.” He said the developers have “done a good job in general,” but need to pay more attention to access and egress around the site.
Sandra McLean voiced optimism over what the project might look like 20 to 25 years down the road, but said the city wasn’t doing much to follow up on current bylaw infractions. “I want to know that the city’s going to be a good neighbour,” she said.
A bcIMC representative committed to better communication around plans for the property and reminded those in the audience that “this is just the beginning of a much longer process.”
The approval of changes to the OCP does not preclude close scrutiny of each element of the development plan, the first phase of which would be Meadow, a collection of single family detached homes that borders Metchosin Road and abuts the high school property.
Overall, the Royal Bay proposal calls for 2,300 housing units to be constructed at full buildout on the roughly 466 acres of undeveloped land remaining, ranging from single family dwellings to apartments. There would be two commercial hubs and a set of distinct neighbourhoods.
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Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton wondered whether the company’s plan to liquidate some of its assets might allow it to resume construction on the major residential and commercial project at Colwood Corners, which was excluded from sale at least until the end of this month.
“It’s still a fantastic site and it’s got a lot of work already underway,” she said. “I think for the right person coming in, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of things, they could virtually hit the ground running in fairly short order.”