BC developer builds Oasis from scratch

Saturday, March 27th, 2004

David Butterfield designs $2.2-billion tourism, retirement centre in Baja, Mexico

Brian Morton


Developer David Butterfield takes in the view of Fisherman’s Wharf and Victoria’s Inner Harbour from Shoal Point.

CREDIT: Vancouver Sun Files

One of B.C.’s top developers is poised to start construction on a $2.2-billion US tourism and retirement oasis in Mexico that amounts to building from scratch a brand new environmentally sustainable town in the Baja desert.

David Butterfield, who is perhaps best known recently for Shoal Point II, a $100-million development located on Victoria‘s harbourfront, is building the community on 3,238 hectares (8,000 acres) near the sleepy seaside town of Loreto on the east coast of Mexico‘s Baja Peninsula.

It is considered the next major tourist destination in Mexico. The official launch was last month.

Butterfield was also behind the failed Bamberton project, a $1.1-billion mega-development on Vancouver Island that stirred up controversy in the rural Cowichan Valley more than a decade ago. The Bamberton plan — its scale was unprecedented at the time for a single developer — would have seen an abandoned cement plant site transformed into an environmentally sensitive seaside community of 12,000 residents, just 32 kilometres north of Victoria.

“We’re literally building a town. It’s shades of Bamberton,” says Butterfield, who as president of the Trust for Sustainable Development has partnered with Arizona developer James Grogan in the Mexican project, called the Villages of Loreto Bay. The Loreto Bay Company will manage the development.

“And this is going to be the biggest sustainability project on the planet,” adds Butterfield, who was reached in Mexico. “It has been designed completely around the principals of sustainable development, that is economic development, ecological protection and social responsibility. It’s very much the same planning initiative of Bamberton, although it’s evolved.”

The Trust for Sustainable Development has teamed up with Mexico‘s National Trust for Tourism Development (Fonatur) to build the Loreto Bay project. (The trust, a non-profit corporation set up by Butterfield, aims to promote sustainable development that meets “the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”)

Butterfield maintains that in Mexico he is not just creating another retirement or vacation retreat. He and his team are building what they call a thriving community of mixed Spanish-style housing, facilities and amenities for health, education, eco-tourism and the arts.

The first phase sold out in one day, he says, primarily to Californians and Albertans.

Construction of the first 100 homes is to start in late April and homes will be offered for sale in B.C. at about the same time. The first phase of housing will be ready for occupancy later this year.

The project — to be built in nine phases over 12 to 15 years — is planned to be a series of seaside villages on 1,214 hectares (3,000 acres) at the foot of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains and along five kilometres of coastline.

Prices for homes range from $160,000 to $2 million US for oceanfront houses. Changes in Mexican law mean foreigners can own beachfront property through the establishment of a real estate trust.

Butterfield says he will create a community of 5,000 homes in pedestrian-oriented, car-free neighbourhoods where village centres, shops, fresh organic produce markets, plazas, two 18-hole golf courses and the beach are all within walking distance. Models and precedents for such a plan, he says, include Nantucket Island, Key West in Florida, and European resort towns such as Portofino, Italy.

Notably, the project will not be gated, a concept that is not amenable with Butterfield’s New Urbanism and sustainability values. “No New Urbanist community is gated. And the more places are gated, the more [crime] you get.”

He also notes that the golf courses will not require pesticides or herbicides because they will use eco-focused management techniques. Grass, for example, will be a special strain that can be watered by salt water, which kills weeds naturally.

“And the homes will have courtyards, which are great for cooling. They’re designed for natural ventilation and cooling, so there’s less need for air conditioning.

“Over time, we’ll plan the growth of our town so that it grows together with Loreto.”

A 2,024-hectare (5,000-acre) nature preserve will surround the villages.

The project intends to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent through solar design and ground source heat. All reclaimed effluent water will be reused for irrigation and the community will harvest more potable water than it consumes, the developer says.

Other sustainability features include:

* 20 per cent of energy to be generated from renewable resources.

* A solid waste reduction program for recycling wherever possible and facilities for composting 100 per cent of organic waste.

* Organic farming and organic orcharding to be established as an integral part of the development.

* A community development fund to be financed by local estate transfer tax revenue to provide job training for local residents.

* Job creation programs within the community will provide 2,000 jobs during construction and 5,000 permanent jobs in hospitality, local businesses, eco-tourism, agriculture, local manufacturing, arts and artisan fields.

* Cooperation with Fonatur and federal and local governments to develop a program that provides affordable housing for workers moving to the area for employment.

There will be no highrises.

The development plans to offer amenities for permanent residents and visitors that go beyond normal resorts, such as continuing education programs focused on health and fitness, fresh organic produce markets, an artists’ village, performing arts programs and first class medical services.

“The Villages at Loreto Bay is the last of five areas identified by Mexico‘s tourist development agency as prime tourist development sites,” says Butterfield, 55. “The others are Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo and Huatulco.”

The other four sites have already become internationally recognized tourist destinations.

Sustainability issues have always been front and centre for Butterfield, who once lived as a hippie in a little house in the sleepy village of Lund, 27 kilometres north of Powell River.

Educated at Harvard and the University of Bordeaux, Butterfield came to Canada from Connecticut in the 1960s — a “refugee” of the Vietnam War.

It was during his days in Lund that Butterfield first formulated his ideas about the need for new developments to be “sustainable” — providing a higher quality of life with a smaller consumption of land and less impact on the environment. He also believed that this was possible without the need to sacrifice good design.

Besides Shoal Point and the Bamberton project, Butterfield has directed the planning and creation of a new sustainable community of 2,400 homes in Tucson, Ariz., called the Community of Civano.

Shoal Point was designed with sustainability in mind and uses about 50-per-cent less energy than a conventional building because it uses ground source heat.

Shoal Point’s energy-saving technology impressed many, including experts at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-tank on energy issues in the U.S.

For example, all the homes at Shoal Point have low-e windows (with glass coated with a very thin transparent metallic coating that greatly increases their energy efficiency) and low-water consumption fixtures.

Shoal Point was awarded best multi-family project in Canada by the national division of the Canadian Home Builders Association, at the 2002 National SAM Awards.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo Torres said at the contract signing ceremony that the Loreto project would “without a doubt be fruitful for national tourism, particularly for Baja California Sur.

Fonatur director John McCarthy also said that the project is “excellent news for Mexico and for the state of Baja California Sur, and in particular for the townspeople of Loreto.”

Mexico‘s president, Vicente Fox, has also visited the Loreto site and participated in meetings with developers and state and local officials.

Last year, Mexico placed in the top 10 in the world for overall tourism revenues.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


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