Vancouver Sun Swallow's Landing

Conservation condos: VICTORIA I Swallow's Landing spares 'last remaining Garry oak meadow on waterfront'

Diane Dakers

Special to the Sun

April 23, 2005

SWALLOW'S LANDING

Display centre address: 1 - 1258 Esquimalt Rd., Victoria

Telephone: 1/888-828-4234 or 250-386-0123

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m., Thursday to Monday

Project Size: 102 apartments in two nine-storey buildings

Residence size: 1,100 to 4,000 sq.ft.

Prices: From $351,000

Developer: Mandalay

Architect: Paul Merrick

Environmental groups aren't usually big fans of multi-residential projects. But in Victoria's West Bay neighbourhood, conservationists finally have a development to celebrate.

As part of its proposal for Swallow's Landing, a 102-residence waterfront project on the last undeveloped green space on Victoria Harbour, Mandalay Developments has donated one hectare to a local conservation organization.

"It's the last remaining Garry oak meadow on Victoria's harbour," says Todd Carnahan of the Habitat Acquisition Trust, or HAT. "Now we're the permanent owners. Included with that donation is an endowment fund that enables our staff to manage it in perpetuity."

News of this "eco-gift" -- which represents half the property purchased by Mandalay -- made the front page of the Fall, 2004 Hat Chat, the trust newsletter.

"Matson Lands Preserved Forever!" cheered the headline. The article went on to credit "visionary land developers, dedicated local residents and grass-roots conservation organizations" with creating this "innovative" land use.

"The Matson Lands constitute an exemplary model of successful community-based conservation in an urban setting," says the article.

"I think this type of development is what we're going to see in the future as urban development starts to consume the last one per cent of Garry oak meadow -- these types of developments that involve these tradeoffs," says Carnahan.

The property isn't just significant from an environmental point of view. It also has great historical importance in Victoria.

Originally, the site was owned by Henry Croft, son-in-law of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, and the man for whom the town of Crofton is named. In the mid-1900s, Croft sold the land to Samuel Matson, then-publisher of the Victoria Daily Colonist. When Matson died in 1959, his wife gave the property to the Salvation Army, which operated Matson Lodge there until 1986, when the building was demolished.

Since then, a number of development projects have been proposed -- and rejected -- until Victoria's Mandalay Developments made its bid a year ago.

"This was one of the happiest stories with regard to municipal approval because of the donation of the land," says Connie Brown, director of sales and marketing for Swallow's Landing. "The developer came in with this design that made everybody happy, including the environmentalists."

Buyers, too, are thrilled with the project, says Brown, who bought her own first-floor suite in Phase 1 of Swallow's Landing when it went on the market in mid-October.

"The appeal is the view," she says, adding that, because the building site is 80 feet above the shoreline, even first-floor suites have stunning harbour vistas. "There's no question the view is our biggest selling point -- and the location that's walkable to town, in addition to the fact that it's plopped in the centre of the woods, unlike some other areas where it's all condos."

Phase 1 of Swallow's Landing, or the East Building, is scheduled for completion in April 2006. Phase 2, the West Building, will be finished in early 2007. Each building is nine storeys and houses 51 suites, ranging from 1,100 to 4,000 square feet, with prices from $351,000 for a one-bedroom suite to $3.5 million for the largest penthouse.

(The plans for Phase 3, featuring seven or eight townhouses, have yet to be finalized.)

In the East Building, all but six suites have been snapped up. And after just three weeks on the market, 22 of the Phase 2 units have already sold.

"That's pretty stunning sales results -- I'm tired," says Brown. "We had a lot of people anxious to get in. It's the last really lovely developable piece of land on the harbour that is truly waterfront."

She notes that about 40 per cent of buyers are from Alberta, with the rest from Victoria, Ontario and Manitoba. Most are in the 45-plus age range, with a few younger couples. "But it's not really an older crowd," says Brown. "There are a lot of baby boomers."

Dave Burns, a 48-year-old Victoria police detective, will be Brown's next-door neighbour in the East Building. He bought at Swallow's Landing because he loves the neighbourhood. ("I've lived in the area most of my life.") In fact, right now, he rents a suite in the apartment building next door.

"I knew something was going to be built there eventually," he says. "I was just waiting for this. I was lucky. I walked down to the display centre and I rattled on the door. It was locked but the salesperson saw me and said 'come on in and look around.' As soon as I saw it, I knew it was what I wanted."

Burns purchased a two-bedroom, two bath, 1,323-square foot unit that "gives me lots of room if my kids want to come and visit."

Each suite at Swallow's Landing features at least one balcony, in-floor radiant heating, a gas fireplace with limestone surround and, of course, spectacular views.

Kitchen highlights include 3-cm thick granite countertops, solid maple cabinets, hybrid stove (gas cooktop, electric oven) and hardwood flooring.

In the bathrooms are soaker tubs with 3-cm granite tub deck, separate glass shower units, ceramic tile flooring, Euro-style sinks, wall-mounted toilets and under-cabinet lighting.

"What we're offering has raised the bar for all local developers," says Brown. "I haven't seen anything locally that compares to our interior appointments."

Outside, between the east and west buildings is a landscaped central courtyard, with a water feature overlooking the sloped Garry oak meadow that leads to the waterfront. A public pathway leads from Swallow's Landing to the ocean shore.

"It was a required part of our development permit to allow public access to this area," says Brown, who is so excited about her new home that she visits the construction site "all the time, to imagine my suite and what it will look like."

She can thank architect Paul Merrick for the look of Swallow's Landing. The three-time Governor-General's Award-winning architect, who splits his time between Victoria and Vancouver, says one of the things that drew him to the project was the conservation aspect of it.

"It's a magnificent piece of land and I liked the whole concept of being able to preserve and gift the intact Garry oak meadow and build on the balance of it," says Merrick, adding that Swallow's Landing has been one of the most satisfying projects of his career.

"Vancouver and Victoria are cities that have special places and they're getting gobbled up," he says. "It's such a shame when you don't do the best job on a site because the quality of a city, when it's all said and done, is the quality of the projects that make it up. If we (architects and developers) each do what we can, then a better city gets built and that's what makes it satisfying."

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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