A proposed development on a large tract of agricultural reserve land near Wildwood Bluffs is moving forward, albeit slowly, according to City of Powell River.
Last August, Starium Development, a company owned by Shih-tao Lu, informed the city it intended to begin clearing a 600-acre parcel Lu purchased in 2015. The company’s objective was to prepare for development of a vineyard, orchard, flowerbeds and farm estate this spring.
Since that initial announcement, things have been relatively quiet, according to city councillor Rob Southcott.
“I believe there was some machine work in early fall; I didn’t actually see that myself, but people in Wildwood were aware of it,” said Southcott. “I’ve heard nothing since then.”
City director of planning Thomas Knight said he believes progress on the planned vineyard is being made.
“Our understanding with the city is they cleared a portion of the site and that Mr. Lu was working with a consultant with a specialty in vineyards to assist him in that regard,” said Knight.
Originally, Lu envisioned building a large university campus on the land, according to Knight. However, the size of the undertaking seemed incongruous with the population of the community, he said.
“That was a much bigger thing,” said Knight. “They came in and tendered drawings for that university that had us shaking our heads in the sense that when you look at the population, and what he was actually doing, it was really out of context.”
The city has been advised that Lu is no longer interested in pursuing the university project, said Knight, but he has several other holdings in the community that work continues on concurrently.
“He has nine or 10 things he’s interested in doing at the same time and he goes about them at different degrees of attack,” said Knight.
According to Polaris Land Surveying owner Brent Taylor, who works with Lu on his Powell River projects, it is a case of timing to get big projects approved.
“It’s just simply that larger projects take a long time to move forward,” said Taylor. “We have to go through all these different hoops, and that’s kind of where all their projects are at the moment.”
Other projects Lu is pursuing in town include a resort plan and a single-family residential development, both also in Wildwood.
“The resort proposal, we have received an application and we’re waiting for amendments,” said Knight.
One development that is progressing is work on the former Olive Devaud Residence, which Lu purchased and is remodelling as student accommodations.
“He’s in the process of retrofitting the Olive Devaud in terms of providing student housing to Camber College,” said Knight.
Keeping the building as a residence is an advantage, as it requires fewer changes or upgrading in terms of building codes.
“When you make changes to an institutional building, for example, go from institutional to commercial, you would have do major building code requirements,” said Knight, “whereas going from a seniors home to student accommodations, the building codes aren’t as severe.”
Knight and Southcott said they believe Lu was initially surprised at the differences he encountered doing business in BC.
“The way it works in China is so different than the way it works here,” said Southcott.
Knight said he agrees that navigating a new business culture was likely a learning process for Lu.
“When he does business in China, he gets almost instantaneous approvals, so it’s a culture shock to come and recognize it doesn’t actually happen that way here,” said Knight.
Lu is also diversifying with some larger projects in the province, according to Knight.
“He sees the potential Powell River has long term, so he’s glad he has the holdings he has, but he’s also moved into the Vancouver market,” said Knight. “He’s getting more involved in some bigger projects and has the base of people who can deal with him in Mandarin.”