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Development booms in Powell River region

City hits $10 million mark for new construction
development boom
BUILDING CREW: Home builder Al Rebane [centre] and his employees [from left] Graham Price, Tristan Rebane, Phil Higgins and Darrell Davidson are finishing up construction on a Hemlock Street home in Townsite, one of several planned for the new subdivision. Chris Bolster photo

It is no secret Powell River’s real estate market is red hot. Houses are listed and often sold in a day or two and the average price for single-family homes continues to rise.

About half of the homes sold are to people from the Lower Mainland who are coming to take advantage of the lower prices and Powell River’s lifestyle, according to Powell River Sunshine Coast Real Estate Board president Neil Frost.

So it comes as no surprise to city officials, developers and other interested parties that a development boom is happening as well.

“We’ve just hit $10 million in building value in the city,” said City of Powell River director of planning services Thomas Knight. “The same time last year we were only at $4 million.”

Knight’s counterpart in Powell River Regional District, manager of planning Laura Roddan, said she thinks development in the regional district’s rural electoral areas have also seen increases, but she said at this point that feeling is backed by more anecdote than statistics.

“It’s premature to say we’re seeing a building or development boom,” said Roddan. “My sense is that
there has been a lot though.”

Roddan added that she is waiting for the results of the 2016 population census, expected in February next year, to see if there has been growth.

“I’m anxious to see that data because it will validate whether we’re seeing an increase in our population or not,” she said.

Throughout the city, developments are primarily single-family residential, but one local construction firm, Creekside Builders, plans on building 30 units of condominiums above the former Max Cameron School site in addition to four duplexes and several houses.

Though ground has yet to be broken, another firm has its sights set on waterfront condos near the Westview ferry terminal, and yet another company has development plans for four townhouses at Duncan Street and Westview Avenue. Six duplexes are also planned for Cranberry.

Since taking over the city’s planning department almost two and half years ago, Knight said he has never seen a backlog of development applications. “But now we do,” he said.

Knight said developers are focused on building single-family homes with less emphasis on multi-family buildings. “We’re anxious to get that going,” said Knight. “There’s a gap between the single-family and multi-family market. It’s only a question of time before we see developers taking on those larger projects.”

With the current sellers’ market comes increased demand for new homes.

“I don’t know if I can speak about development, but we’ve sold a heck of a lot more raw land than we have in the last few years,” said Frost. “It’s definitely way up.”

With the low rate of available housing inventory for sale, some would-be buyers are being forced to buy lots and build, said Frost. He noted how quickly lots in the Hemlock Street subdivision in Townsite, right above Brooks Secondary School, were picked up.

Creekside Builders is currently working on one home in the Hemlock subdivision for Vancouver buyers who were looking for a summer home, said company owner Al Rebane.

“Times are really good right now,” he said. Rebane added that he and his crew of five builders have been working steady and that his niche is toward building moderate to high-end, custom homes inside the city limits.

“Even when the markets were low elsewhere, they maintained themselves here,” he said.

Companies building what is considered “lower end” (mid-$300,000 range) new construction to be sold on completion in the city are also doing well.

Local residential firm Henderson-Edwards Developments has kept busy building many of upper Westview’s rancher-style houses over the past few years.

“Spec product is not sitting on the market for long,” said company owner Darren Edwards. “We have people driving up to our subdivisions and expressing interest in buying the home prior to it being completed.”

Edwards said he has seen a steady demand for homes and that has fueled his company’s pace of building one after the other.

Shane Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Construction, said that as the housing inventory dwindles due to record high sales for used houses, the only way meet demand is for new construction.

“There’s probably a little bit of speculation buying going on, but there’s definitely a demand for new product,” said Hawkins. Hawkins builds principally in Powell River Regional District rural areas and just completed a $600,000 home on Savary Island.

“Most of our work is on a little more high-end, custom homes,” he said. “There’s a lot of people moving here to get out of the city. Lots of people are coming from Squamish.”

Frost said as Squamish prices rose, people who lived there looked elsewhere on the coast.

“People who wanted to buy a first home or an investment home have had to look elsewhere,” said Frost. “Powell River is now on the radar.”

Knight said the city is starting to look at alternatives, such as carriage and micro-homes, to help increase supply and add to density.

He added that his department will be working on these options in the fall.