Third town centre planned for Saltspring Island

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Development is the biggest ever seen in the Gulf Islands

Doug Alexander

SALTSPRING ISLAND – A new $200-million community designed to look like an English hamlet is planned for the north side of Saltspring Island.

When completed, the town of Highbridge will be the biggest project ever seen in the Gulf Islands, according to Saltspring Island Conservancy president Peter Lamb.

Plans call for 405 homes and a town centre, with shops and amenities, spread over 36 hectares overlooking Stewart Channel and Vancouver Island — part of a 344-hectare development by Vancouver-based Channel Ridge Properties Inc.

According to Channel Ridge, the community will boast cobbled streets and a town square and will be surrounded by more than 283 hectares of meadows and woodlands.

“A big part of the village is the ambiance and the flavour of Saltspring,” said Channel Ridge president Thomas Ivanore in a telephone interview.

The Islands Trust, the governing body for the Gulf Islands, gave developers the go-ahead for the project in June. Marketing will start in September and construction is expected to begin next year.

“It’s going to have a big impact in so far as it’ll create a new town on the island,” says David Essig, Islands Trust Council chairman.

He says there’s a sense of “guarded enthusiasm” among island residents about the development. “I don’t get a sense that anyone’s saying, ‘No, stop this, it shouldn’t happen.’ They just want to make sure it happens in a way that’s consistent with the community values on the island.”

The idea has been in the works for more than 20 years, since a local family started buying up farms on the northern part of Saltspring and planning a village for the site. The Islands Trust later included those plans in its Official Community Plan. The family never capitalized on the 580 hectares it had acquired until 2001, when it sold the property to a group of 304 investors from B.C. and Alberta for $7.1 million.

That group formed Channel Ridge Properties Inc., which has been working for three years to create the community. Much of the land around the new townsite has been cleared.

Highbridge Town Centre will include 54 commercial units, totalling 80,000 square feet of retail space, and will join Ganges and Fulford Harbor as town centres on Saltspring. The new community will eventually be home to 1,200 people.

“Sustainability” is the buzzword for Highbridge. The project will have its own sewer system, which will treat and recycle waste, and will use its own rooftop rainwater collection system to cut back on water consumption, since the island has limited water.

Planned community amenities include tennis courts, a playing field, crafts workshop, wellness centre with spa and fitness area and a lounge.

Lamb said the Saltspring Island Conservancy has no objections to the project, though his group wants the natural landscape preserved as much as possible. Lamb says this will be a “significant” development for the island’s north side, which is mainly populated by single-family homes on large lots.

“It’s the largest single real estate development in the Gulf Islands that we’ve ever seen and probably ever will see, I hope,” Lamb said. “It will have a major impact, but it could be beneficial.”

One issue of concern to Saltspring residents is who will live at Highbridge. Channel Ridge plans to market the homes as multiple ownership, which means up to five people can own the property — prompting fears among islanders that Highbridge will become a haven for part-time resort dwellers instead of permanent residents.

Essig says he’s heard residents express fears that the project will become an enclave for wealthy visitors, rather than the neighbourhood envisioned in the island’s community plan.

“What we’d like to see is it become more like another Ganges and less like a Whistler,” Essig said.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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