Buyers rush to buy slice of Britannia Beach site Despite minimal fanfare, 91 undeveloped lots sold in four days to a wide cross-section of buyers

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Michael McCullough


Tiny Britannia Beach was the scene of a miniature land rush last week. With minimal fanfare, Britannia Bay Properties Ltd. sold out 91 undeveloped lots located on the village’s northeast side in just four days.

The sale, advertised only in Squamish, represents the first phase of a plan to redevelop the old copper-mining town, long the site of massive groundwater contamination, into a bedroom community and tourism attraction for the Sea-to-Sky corridor — an area that has seen a spike in development interest since Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympics a year ago.

“It was a little faster than we expected,” Britannia Bay president Jerry Bordian said of the sale.

He said there was a wide cross-section of buyers, including young families and seniors, tradespeople and white-collar commuters, plus some builders. Although most buyers were from the Squamish area, a few came from as far away as the United States and Europe.

The lots, located to the northeast of the existing townsite, were priced between $174,900 and $360,000, with the largest nearly 10 acres in area.

Buyers had to place a 10-per-cent deposit. The sales do not close until June 2005, once the lots are fully serviced with road access, water and sewer lines, and obtain rezoning from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. The earliest the new owners could start building homes will be next summer.

Bordian said the developer chose to market the lots now to give a better understanding of the demand, and as a hedge against a possible downturn in the real estate market.

“We’re reducing our risk,” he said. “It gives us surety.”

A portion of the proceeds of the sale will go toward a fund to help the B.C. government defray the cost of building a water treatment plant in the community and other remediation measures.

Some realtors in Sea-to-Sky country were surprised how quickly the lots sold out, at relatively high price points, with so little promotion.

Pat Kelly, owner of Black Tusk Realty in Squamish, said people may be anticipating that the improvements being made to Highway 99 in time for 2010 will make the corridor a viable alternative to the Fraser Valley for people commuting to jobs in Greater Vancouver.

“People from Squamish will see the upside of Britannia, especially if they commute,” he said.

Britannia Bay, a subsidiary of Vancouver’s McDonald Development Corp. that acquired 440 acres of the town in a foreclosure last year, also owns the existing residential townsite of Britannia Beach, as well as 100 less-accessible acres to the north of the lots sold last week. The company expects to sell most of the 105 existing homes over the next year.

Bordian said Britannia Bay is offering the town’s 250 residents the chance to buy the homes they currently rent at a substantial discount. The company is offering to give the residents a down-payment worth 25 per cent of the value of their home (as determined by an assessor), which would help them qualify for a mortgage for the rest.

Bordian said most residents have expressed interest in buying, and he expects most of the homes will end up in the hands of their current occupants. Residents also have the option of continuing to rent, he said.

As for the final 100-acre parcel, Britannia Bay will take some time to study how and when it should be developed. Bordian said it would not necessarily be developed in time for the 2010 Olympics, which is adding urgency to development all along Highway 99.

The SLRD’s official community plan allows for as many as 1,000 homes to be developed on Britannia Bay’s land, but Bordian said the company did not plan to come anywhere near that limit.

“We feel that this is the appropriate density for this land,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Britannia Beach Historical Society, which operates the B.C. Museum of Mining on the south side of town, is working on a business plan to restore and redevelop a commercial main street and public square, ideally before 2010. The themed commercial section will be geared primarily to tourists visiting the museum, but will also feature amenities for residents, said museum director Kirstin Clausen. She said the society is receiving an increasing number of enquiries from prospective tenants interested in building and operating businesses in the area.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Clausen said of the keen interest in residential properties in the town. She said the residential component helps bring the revival of the near-ghost town closer to fruition. However, she cautioned, “There are a number of things that have to be put into place for Britannia Beach to reach its potential.”

Spurred by the 2010 deadline, residential development is proceeding and anticipated throughout the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Burrard International and Parklane Homes/Tanac Development continue to market homes in Furry Creek, a developable enclave surrounding a golf course just south of Britannia Beach. About 250 of a possible 900 homes have so far been built.

In Squamish, a large housing development will accompany the new Sea to Sky University east of Garibaldi Highlands. In addition, Townline Properties is developing townhouses and detached houses along with the Garibaldi Springs golf course, and the District of Squamish envisions a multi-use development — including residences — on its formerly industrial waterfront.

And as The Vancouver Sun recently confirmed, the Squamish Nation is in talks with Vancouver’s Concord Pacific Developments over a possible residential development in the area of Porteau Cove, where the SLRD’s community plan allows up to 1,000 new homes.

There is also a large tract of private land stretching of Britannia Beach, known as the Macon lands, that has been tied up in receivership for years, but could see development if rising land prices warrant.

Kelly estimates that Squamish alone has room for 5,000 to 6,000 new homes. However he fears that developers and land speculators may be moving ahead of demand, dazzled by the prospect of 2010.

“To say prices will go up because of a 17-day event in the middle of winter is a little off in my mind,” he said. “I think it’s a very poor reason to make a real estate decision.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Comments are closed.