June 11, 2013

A ringside seat to the wild West Coast surf

Vancouver Island cottages will sit within metres of the ocean

Sooke Point at Silver Spray

Project location: Vancouver Island, 43 km southwest of Victoria
Project size/scope: A seven-hectare site with 95 strata-titled oceanfront and oceanview cottages; one- to four-bedroom homes ranging from 500 sq. ft — 2,400 sq. ft on one to three storeys.
Price: From $299,900
Contact: Pilothouse Marketing
Phone: 250-300-1645
Maintenance fees: Estimated at $295/month for a standard cottage
Website: sookepoint.com
Builder: PacRim Building Group, Victoria
Developer: Michael Thornton, Landus Development Group Inc.
Architect-Designer: Michael Thornton & Rick Wellsby
Interiors: Megan Bennett
Presentation Centre: 1000 Silver Spray Drive, Sooke
Show home hours: 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. daily, July through September
Occupancy: From spring 2014

Special to The Sun

Michael Thornton is obsessed with the sea: the way waves crash on the shore, the big sound the surf makes as it rolls onto the washboard rock formations, and most importantly, how he can deliver Imax-style visions of the seas from the cottages he is building on the Sooke Point shore. After 17 years and 64 public hearings, the Vancouver developer has had ample time to examine and re-examine his ambitious seaside development on Vancouver Island — Sooke Point at Silver Spray — in exhausting detail.

“We are on the southwest tip of Canada, so we are the first place where you can see the big rollers come in and the sun set into the open Pacific,” he says excitedly. Thornton and the 1,400 investors who have joined him have come a long way since his company bought the 70-hectare piece of land in 1996 for about $4 million. The original development concept called for 274 homes, a golf course and a marina, but facing considerable opposition to oceanfront development, it had a number of changes. A later development permit allowed him to build a 150-room resort hotel, but the 2008 financial meltdown put an end to that dream.

“Nobody was remotely interested in ponying up $50 (million) to $60 million to build this thing.” So he spent the next few years travelling the world scouting out various resort scenarios: Santorini and Crete, Lake Como, the Bahamas. But it was finally a stay at a Bali resort built by the Bulgari of Italian jewelry fame that became a model of sorts for Sooke Point at Silver Spray. He uses a designer for some work, but says he has kept his costs down by doing much of the design himself.

“What the Bali project showed us is that you could take the density that you would be getting going vertical (with the original hotel) and do it horizontal, laying the resort on its side to get good density.” The change certainly worked for Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne and his council, who voted unanimously to support Thornton’s new plan for cottages, rather than a highrise hotel structure. “I think it is more balanced and more suitable for the location,” he said. “People can take advantage of the ocean location and not be so jammed in.”

In addition to supporting the cottage concept, council also approved a seldom-granted variance that allows Thornton to build the cottages to within five metres of the ocean, giving them a ringside seat to the wild west coast surf for which Tofino and Ucluelet have become famous as romantic storm-watching retreats. Thornton describes in detail how the cottages, ranging from one to three storeys, would feature seaside walls of glass and decks shaped like the prow of a ship to increase the vista for wave-watching below.

“You would open the door and pow, you have a whole wall of glass 24 feet long and eight feet high,” he said. “You want to see the eagles, you want to see the sky, you want to see the bounce (of sun) come in off the water and really light up the room. You want to feel you are outside.” Privacy is paramount, he said, with well-placed walls shielding neighbours from each other. Landscaping in front of each home would increase that protection, as would the absence of side windows.

The zoning allows a private residence club, which means unlimited private use, but Thornton is hoping most buyers will view their purchase as a second home that is also available for rentals through a management company. All units will come fully furnished right down to the bed linens and silverware so that those renting them have a consistent experience. “My hope is that the majority of buyers do not live there. They will want to have it when they can, but the rest of the time we hope that they are going to let us use it for a destination resort that we ally with so we can build the tourism in the area and all the amenities that go with that.”

Those amenities would include two restaurants, tennis courts, a swimming pool and hot tub, a fitness and yoga facility. Thornton has already spent more than $5 million on infrastructure, including more than five kilometres of roads, and a water line across Sooke Harbour that ties into the regional water system at one end and a 180,000-gallon reservoir at the resort end. On the ocean, homeowners would have access to salmon fishing, kayaking and hiking along the best-of-the-best rated wilderness trails in Canada.

The resort’s layout makes the most of the natural features of craggy volcanic rock and waves crashing against the shore. The majority of homes on the peninsula face west, south or east and are organized around roads that end in traffic circles and dead-end roads with names like Possession Point, Sunrise Parkview, Sunset Ridge and Sunset Shores strung along more than 2,850 feet of oceanfront. An 857-square-foot show home now being built is scheduled to open in late June. Visitors will be able to get a clear idea of views extending in all directions from a series of decks built along the oceanfront land. In the centre of the peninsula is an area called The Village, where the swimming pool, hot tub and other amenities will be situated.

Thornton says a nearby cottage resort — Point No Point — is proof that the area is a tourist magnet. Built in the early 1950s, its cottages go for between $199 and $299 a night and are full year round, he said. “If we can do just what Point No Point does, I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t do well.” Thornton said he also expects to organize relationships with time-share and home swap organizations so that Silver Spray homeowners could trade their vacation time for opportunities to visit other destinations.

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