Construction hot in Campbell River, Courtenay in 'calming period'

A new Comox Valley hospital will be the largest construction project in the area in recent memory,  notes City of Courtenay CAO David Allen. - File photo
A new Comox Valley hospital will be the largest construction project in the area in recent memory, notes City of Courtenay CAO David Allen.
— image credit: File photo

While construction and land development have tapered locally, the picture is substantially different north of the Comox Valley.

In Campbell River, the value of residential and commercial construction topped $101 million in 2013.

The 262 permits issued is a minor increase since 2012, but the value of construction took a huge leap from the $59 million in 2012. Last year's numbers come close to the city's record-breaking year in 2006 when construction values hit $115 million.

By comparison, the City of Courtenay last year issued 197 permits, with a value of $30.4 million. In 2012, 237 permits valued at nearly $50 million were issued.

Ross Blackwell, City of Campbell River land-use services manager, attributes a strong investment climate and attractive quality of life to growth in the land development industry. Changes to streamline development application processes have also contributed.

"The building and the development community both rely on efficiencies so they can accurately predict how their project is going to go," Blackwell said, noting issues such as debt servicing and financing that impact a project's viability. "Accordingly, they're very sensitive around timelines."

To ensure local government, builders and developers are on the same page, the City of Campbell River initiated a series of monthly building and development forums to deal with "the more salient issues" relating to building and land development, fostering a "cross-fertilization" of ideas and concerns, Blackwell said.

In an effort to respond to ebbs and flows in the development industry, the City created two floating positions to respond to areas of concentration. In the case of excessive development applications, for example, one person would focus on supporting that function.

"This allowed us to be much more surgical in managing the work flow," Blackwell said.

Campbell River has also partnered with local government neighbours to share staff members.

The City has also launched a video series containing short clips to address frequently asked questions.

"There are various pillars associated with this model of change," Blackwell said. "We're not finished. We're constantly looking at ways to improve, to streamline, to make more practical that whole four-pillar approach to development."

City of Courtenay CAO David Allen says 2013 represented a "calming period" after a time of significant commercial growth from 2010 to 2012.

He cautions against looking at a one-year snapshot, recommending instead to consider historic development cycles.

For example, from 2001 to 2006, Campbell River’s population grew by 4.6 per cent. Between 2006 and 2011 it grew by 5.5 per cent. For these same periods, Courtenay grew by 14.5 per cent and 9.4 per cent, respectively.

"So while Campbell River is experiencing a period of positive growth, by comparison they’re playing a bit of catchup to what was happening here over the last decade," Allen said.

A strategic priority of the City of Courtenay is to review development application processes, and to determine if and where improvements could be made, including "civic options to improve downtown viability." A target deadline of May has been set for the review.

Blackwell expects another strong year in 2014 in Campbell River with a number of projects and investment interest related to the construction of the new hospital.

In the Comox Valley, construction of the new $334-million hospital will be the largest construction project in recent memory, Allen notes.

This year, new commercial developments are projected for the Ryan Road/Crown Isle Drive area, as well as Cliffe Avenue.

In terms of residential, the City anticipates numerous projects in South Courtenay, the Arden Road area, Mission Road and Crown Isle. Last year, the City added 153 new residential subdivision lots — the highest numbers in Courtenay since 2006.

Last week, Courtenay council gave zoning approval for a 94-unit development, injecting a boost to rental housing after about a 25-year hiatus in the city.


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