Wesbild picks up 370 acres of provincial land on Burke Mountain
A developer with a long history of major projects in Coquitlam has bought a significant chunk of provincial land on Burke Mountain, setting the stage for the next phase of building in the city’s rapidly developing northeast corner.
Wesbild has announced the acquisition of 370 of the 584 acres, north of Coast Meridian Road, put up for sale by the government in January as part of Victoria’s ongoing efforts to dispose of Crown assets and balance its books.
The company has also committed to setting aside two potential sites for future elementary schools, with prices frozen at 2014 levels for the next 10 years.
School District 43 cannot confirm the locations or more details about the deal, however, until it receives more details from the provincial government.
“We need to hear back from the province in terms of the agreement that has been made with Wesbild,” said Ivano Ceccini, principal of facility initiatives for SD43.
He confirmed that the properties are for future needs while the district continues to negotiate with landholders for a site on which to build Smiling Creek elementary school, which will be built first.
SMILING CREEK FIRST
Planned for 350 students, Smiling Creek had been slated for a 2016 opening, a deadline that could still be met if negotiations are concluded, said Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Doug Horne, who noted that funding for Smiling Creek was approved over a year ago.
“Now that everyone is on the same page, we are going to see some quicker progress than we’ve seen,” Horne said.
But for now, he said taxpayers will benefit from the Wesbild deal that freezes the two school parcels at 2014 prices and because Wesbild will put services in without charge to the school district.
Asked why the province couldn’t simply set aside the land for the two future elementary schools, saving the district from having to buy the land back — with provincial money — in the future years, Horne said the real estate deal involves large tracts of land that are not yet subdivided.
“Notionally, we could hold them back but it’s difficult. From a legal standpoint, it’s difficult to articulate that,” Horne said, noting that under the current deal, the district will have more flexibility in determining the exact school locations based on the community’s needs.
LONG PLANNING PROCESS
As for Wesbild, the land sale announced this week is the beginning of a long planning process. Jennifer Derbyshire, the company’s director of marketing and community relations, said only a quarter of the parcels that were purchased already have neighbourhood plans. Those parcels are in the Smiling and Partington Creek areas and will likely be serviced and sold first, possibly in the next five years.
The remaining parcels are part of a longer-term planning process: 25% of the land is part of the Northwest Burke Vision process underway while the remaining 50% is in a development reserve.
“In our minds, the properties will be developed over the next 10 years,” Derbyshire said.
To put the acquisition in perspective, Wesbild has purchased approximately 63% of the land the province put up for sale. Its current holdings, excluding the new acquisition, have seen the development of 1,500 units out of about 7,500 for all of Burke Mountain.
The company won’t know how many units it can build on new properties until all the land planning has been completed. But president and CEO Kevin Layden said he is looking forward to the process.
“Council has approved an innovative [Northwest Burke] visioning process and Wesbild is excited to be participating as a member of the property owners group. In addition to that, we plan on engaging residents in a community consultation similar to other neighbourhoods we have developed on Burke Mountain,” Layden said in a press release.
SCHOOL ALREADY FULL
As for setting aside land for the two school sites and servicing the land for free, Derbyshire said her company is as eager as Burke Mountain residents to see schools in the area built to accommodate the growing student population. Elementary students in the area currently go to Leigh elementary and “the school is getting full,” Derbyshire said.
The estimated land value of the school sites is not available but in a report to the city called the eligible school sites proposal, $11 million was the estimated market land cost for each school (at 2.5 acres apiece for a building and field for 350 students).
Wesbild has owned land on Burke Mountain since 2002, some of the builders working in the company’s Foothills at Burke Mountain development have included Wallmark Homes, Polygon Homes, Silverstar Properties, Foxridge Homes, Mission Group and Noura Construction.
And it’s not the first big development for the company. In 1989, it bought 1,410 acres of provincial land on Westwood Plateau and developed it.