Colwood development raises concerns for loss of trees
Langford, Colwood experience ongoing growing pains due to regional growth
Langford and Colwood are losing green space as they grow into larger suburban centres. Photo: Shutterstock
The construction of a 67-unit condo on Sooke Road has some residents in Colwood worried that the development will change their neighbourhood for the worse, not better. Rapid growth and developments like these can lead to noticeable and irrevocable changes in the way neighbourhoods feel, and some people living in Colwood say some of the coming changes are not welcome.
As cities like Colwood and Langford transition from sleepy suburban centres to embracing high-density developments—more common in their more urban counterparts—area growing pains will continue. As long as rental costs and housing prices in Victoria continue to skyrocket and more people move to the Westshore, these municipalities are on the fast track of change. And while the changes are inevitable, some of them, particularly around impacts to existing neighbourhood trees, green spaces and other natural features are harder for residents to accept.
At last week’s Colwood city council meeting, a number of constituents rose to speak to their concerns about potential traffic volume and the loss of cherished neighbourhood trees around the proposed construction of a six-storey, 67-unit condo development by Land Vision Group at the corner of Lynnlark and Sooke Roads. One long-time resident spoke to the coming losses he and his neighbours will be facing.
“All the trees on this property are going to get torn down. Every single one. All the neighbours are upset.” Some of the trees have come off the development site itself, but many others, owing to their extensive root systems, will come off private properties around the site. Another resident who has lived in Colwood for 50 years, pointed out that “over one hundred, 150-foot trees have already come down on the site in the last six months.”
Developers have an obligation, through provincial and municipal regulatory frameworks and non-regulatory frameworks, to manage projects in ways that are responsive to community needs and that respect existing community values.
In its recently published strategic plan, Saanich City Council committed to planting 100,000 trees in 10 years.” The Langford Community Plan commits to maximizing “the ecological value of natural areas.”
Similar commitments appear in the city of Colwood Official Community Plan: “Colwood is green by nature, blessed with natural beauty and home to trees, hillsides, shoreline, and other ecological areas. These cherished natural areas will remain intact, with new development not only protecting them, but also connecting and regenerating them.”
“We recognize that progress is inevitable,” said another council meeting attendee. “We’re going to lose all the trees…I am not going to have a buffer zone between my yard and a six-storey building.”
Not all developers or environmentalists agree with Colwood residents about the impact of more dense urban development on local tree canopy. In their 2019 report, the Metro Vancouver Regional District Climate Action Committee argued that more footprint is left for green space in high-density areas than in single family dwelling development projects, citing that tree canopy in single-family home neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver fell from 36% to 18% between 1970 to 2000.
Both communities, but Langford especially, are running out of greenfield or undeveloped land. At the same time, they are also blessed with natural lakes, forest, and ocean settings, but in order to accommodate the growth, constituents living on the Westshore have had to normalize the loss of trees, wildlife, access to natural forest, and fields. The Bear Mountain and the West Hills developments have already significantly transformed the local landscape.
Bear Mountain, a golf resort and luxury condo development straddles Langford and the District of Highlands. This summer, resort owners Ecoasis made the news when they proposed a fee-for-use scheme to access trails connecting its Bear Mountain property to Goldstream Provincial Park. It remains a contentious issue.
Cities in the Westshore have also worked to protect green space in the region, by writing it into their bylaws and agreements with developers. While it, too, has greatly changed the local landscape around Langford Lake, West Hill developers transferred 35 acres back to the City of Langford in July, as part of its municipal re-zoning requirement.
The cost-benefits impacts of single-home versus more dense housing projects to green space on the Westshore, is likely to play out for years to come.
Royal Bay is another development that will significantly change the face of the Westshore. The 419-acre property was initially purchased by BC Investment Management Corp. in 2012 from Lehigh Heidelberg when it was still part of the Producers Pit gravel operation. In 2018, it sold the property to GableCraft Homes. With 2,300 homes slated for construction there, it is the largest single housing development in Colwood’s history. The 1.4-kilometre oceanfront parcel is dedicated mainly to housing, but will also include a commercial component.
The development at Royal Bay will certainly alter the look and the feel of the Westshore, and not just for its human residents. Oceanside developments can also have lasting impacts on the environment such as changes to shoreline vegetation, bird and marine life behaviours due to human activities like increased noise, sedimentation, boating and fishing.
Everyone is invested in the community they live in and the property that they own or hope to own. In the face of the inevitable big changes coming their way, the cities of Colwood and Langford and developers have made promises to their constituents to deliver project outcomes that are responsive to their needs and hopes, present and future. Residents, like the ones raising their concerns to council, hope they will keep them.