POSTED ON 17/11/06

DWELLING: RESETTLEMENT

Demographics are reshaping rural B.C.

TREVOR BODDY

While media attention flows to the glamour growth cities of the Okanagan,

Victoria and Vancouver, housing development action is also transforming vast

sectors of rural British Columbia. In relative terms, the East Kootenays, mid-

Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast have become the fastest growing

areas of our province.

New houses, condos and apartments are rising at a hectic pace anyplace on

water, and if there's a lively town with a hospital nearby, so much the better.

There is no single factor that has sparked this rural brushfire of building, but

rather a combination of forces. The most important is an inescapable

demographic reality: boomers are now in the recreation-retirement phase of their

lives. Whether upgrades of wharf-side dwellings once home to fishermen or millworkers,

or bush hippie hollows transformed from commune to commercial, the

baby boom is acquiring B.C.'s rural land at a frantic pace.

The boomers tend to buy these building plots when in their fifties as places to

retire to on weekends, then to retire on permanently when they have left the

wage economy.

The real estate industry has a name for it: "recre-retirement."

Amplifying this phenomenon is the gusher of oil wealth pouring out of Alberta. At

first, B.C. felt this wave of investment only at Whistler, Panorama and the toniest

of the Gulf Islands -- places where oil industry executives cashed-out to build

sprawling dream homes.

The Albertans now driving whole sectors of British Columbia's rural real estate

market are the oil boom's second-tier wealthy: engineers, accountants,

surveyors, reservoir analysts and the like. Their trickle-down wealth has been

transformed into property, pushing land prices in some portions of the Kootenays

higher than the Gulf Islands, a scenario few of us saw coming for a oncedepressed

corner of the province.

Another factor is a money-gusher of another type: the huge ramping up of house

prices for Point Grey and West Vancouver.

This property-fired rapid increase of net worth easily finances the purchase of a

second rural home, while maintaining a primary residence in the city.

No place has felt the effects of wealth from this source more than the Sunshine

Coast.

Blessed with easy access to Horseshoe Bay through a fast, frequent and

relatively cheap public ferry, real estate agents like Karen Kidd are doing land

office business finding new homes for West Vancouverites along the coves and

Arcadian lanes between Gibson's and Egmont.

Ms. Kidd's last Vancouver project was the ultra-high-end Kingswood at 14th and

Pine, but she relocated full time to the Sunshine Coast to market a huge project

rising on the former location of a much-loved Sechelt pub, the Wakefield Inn. "We

have mainly sold to West Vancouverites, with very few from other parts of

Canada or offshore," says Ms. Kidd. The 32-unit seaside project is 90 per cent

sold.

With a concept design by West Vancouver architects Helliwell & Smith, the

asymmetrically-curving lines of roofs on the nearly-finished Wakefield Homes

project look like ranges of white caps rolling between Sechelt's pebbly beaches

and North and South Thormanby Island.

"This is just the beginning" predicts Ms. Kidd. There are dozens of kilometres of

water-facing, road-accessible land on both Georgia Strait and Sechelt Inlet ready

for ecologically-sensitive developments, she says. Ms. Kidd herself is working

with Wakefield Homes' owner Lance Sparling and development manager John

Gillespie on several new projects along the Sunshine Coast.

Many of the projects driven by this influx of boomer wealth are being built with

sustainability in mind. This is very much in evidence in the latest constructions

around Rockwater Resort at nearby Secret Cove. These canvas-walled-androofed

rooms, called "tenthouses", are set on radiant slab decks for near yearround

use. There are seven open now, with another half dozen slated to be

ready by next summer, all linked by raised walkways that tread lightly in the rain

forest.

The Rockwater tenthouses are a high-end reworking of kid's tree-houses. Built in

a gorgeous arbutus grove above pounding Pacific shores, these constructions

demonstrate that there is a point where high-end luxury meets barely-there

shelter, where five-star hotel meets backpacker basics.

tboddy@globeandmail.com