Friday, April 04, 2014

A Visit to Elkington Forest in South Shawnigan

The view from what will be the Ridgeview Hamlet looking towards
Shawnigan Lake - yesterday was overcast so the photo did not turn out 
I was invited by Doug Makaroff to come visit the Elkington Forest site in South Shawnigan and I took him up on that offer yesterday.   I was impressed with what I saw, this is the real deal.  Doug and his partners are really trying to do something different.

Their vision could be offering realistic and viable alternative to how we offer people the places they want to live in while at the same time providing a focus on the ecological needs of the land.   They are creating something between a development and an intentional community.  All developers use words like sustainable and community but none of them ever seem like building a community really matters to them, other than Elkington.

Barry Gates and Doug Makaroff at the look out 
I wrote about the project three years ago and I was not that impressed with what I saw on the website at the time.  My doubts at the time were there because it seems every developer these days talks about eco-something and uses all manner of buzz words related to sustainability and such - green wash.   Going up to visit the site allowed me to put it all into context.

The website does not do a good job of putting the property, especially the forest, in context with the whole area around it.  From the website it was not clear to me the relationship of the houses to the rest of the property.  The houses are slated to be on the land with the lowest productivity forest and located for the most part on a ridge at the southern part of the property.  Frankly, the views from the Ridgeview Hamlet will be stunning.

The South Shawnigan area has been heavily harvested for timber over the last ten years.   It had been almost all previously been cut down in the 1920s so this is the second cut.

Elkington stands out because it still has forest cover
I had a chance to talk with Barry Gates about the forestry aspect of the project.  They have a realistic long term plan for forestry.   An important point for the forestry aspect is a large enough volume to make timber harvesting economic.  

The forest as it stands now is not anywhere close to ready for harvesting but there are trees that could come out now in a thinning process including some of the timber that will be used for the houses being built as part of the project.    The land that is the working forest is the flatest best part of the whole property.

Much the area around Elkington was harvested in the last decade which I find astonishing because the trees would not have had much value to them.  The trees would only have been about 70 to 80 years old and hardly the high value timber they would have been in several decades.  Much of the harvested land will not not return to forest because it is being sold off as building lots.   There clearly is no serious coordinated plans on the south Shawnigan lands in relation to forest management.

One thing that I understand much better now is that this development has the creation of a community as a very important value.  This is not an intentional community but the hope is that it will have many of the aspects of an intentional community.   The hope is that people who buy here will share similar values with respect to the land and that the design of the development will lead to people getting to know their neighbours.

The current master plan for the developed part of Elkington
Yes, Elkington will be a car dependent community but a much better designed and laid out one that most of the rest of the South Shawnigan area.   The Goldstream Heights stuff is a nightmare, the land was all completely clear cut before subdivision.   The very thin soils are gone so you are working with little more than bare rock.   A bare five to ten acre lot in Goldstream Heights will take a lot of work and time to look like anything more than a piece of bare land.,

Current work in the Trailhead Hamlet
I have looked at their drawings of the Trailhead Hamlet numerous times, but it was only by going on site that I understood how of small a space we are talking about.   Even though the bare land strata lots are in the range of 1/3 of an acre and up, the way the Trailhead Hamlet is laid out is very intimate.   While walking around it I was consistently surprised at how quickly I moved on the map.  This is because the roadway is narrow, the properties are only 20-23 meters wide, and all the development and construction has to take place in a small part of each property near the street.  The core of the Trailhead Hamlet takes up around 3 acres which is smaller than the smallest of the acreages being sold as part of Goldstream Heights next door.

This is about the same area that a cul de sac with 15 houses in Gordon Head will take up.  The big difference is that in Gordon Head a lot more of the land is taken up by the street.

A typical roadway in the suburbs is 8 meters wide.   The use of 4 meter roadways at Elkington Forest will reduce the paved area by 50%, which over all the roadways they intend to build on the site works out to about 1.5 hectares less paving, which is enough space to build 15 more houses.

As to the commercial, I got a better understanding of what they have in mind.   They have set aside 7 lots for light industrial/commercial in part of the development not near any of the housing.  The idea for these lots is to allow for businesses related to the forest activities or the farms plots to exist in the area.   The other potential is for home businesses that out grow the home could continue not far away.

I had thought the idea of a local coffee shop in the Trailhead Hamlet was not a viable option and they agree that it is not going to be a traditional coffee shop.   The coffee shop will likely serve as a seasonal location for  the people using the Trans Canada Trail.  In any case, it will be part of the community centre which is what the building is really about.

For me, the website is what lets the vision for this development down.  I will admit I am jaded because every developer website tends to say community, sustainable, green, eco, buzz word, buzz word etc....  Every developer has beautiful drawings to make us fall in love with the project.   I think Elkington suffers from looking and feeling like green wash when they are not.   The problem is that development is not like other developments.

Doug Makaroff is really trying to do something different in Elkington.  It means this development is not like other developments and therefore hard to categorize.  This is a developer who is trying to build a functioning viable community that respects the environment.  I know of no other people trying to do anything quite like this in BC.  Success here will prove a new model that could be replicated in many locations in BC.

They need to do a better job of telling their story.   This may be a for profit development but at the heart of it it is about a group of people working hard for a decade to protect a 1000 acres of land.

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