The roots of the project date back to 1990 when Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS) initiated a community discussion about the need for affordable housing, as well as considered their role as a developer. A community assessment identified the need for 20 to 30 affordable family homes for Salt Spring, which at that time had a population of 7,500. With this scale and target group in mind the vision of a 24 unit townhouse-style family rental development took shape.
Plans were drawn by Bob Cunliffe for a 24 home neighborhood comprised of three 8-unit buildings and common space, and a search was launched for appropriate land. Non-profit housing development funding was available at that time through BC Housing. SSICS applied to BC Housing and had the proposed 24 unit project added to their list. A number of possible sites came and went including a promising one on Churchill Road. By early 1992 land had not yet been secured. The BC Housing funding program deadline had passed, however the SSICS Board of Directors resolved to continue the land search and keep the idea alive.
In late 1992 the land search led to a discussion with the Catholic Diocese of Victoria. The Diocese owned a large tract of undeveloped land in the Dean Road/Charlesworth Road area adjacent to SSICS property on the Ganges Hill, and were also considering housing development. A plan quickly emerged to allocate 5 acres of the land immediately west of the SSICS property (the “Dean Farm”) for the purpose of affordable housing. SSICS was to lease the land for a 60 year term in exchange for $ 275,000. The deal also included the transfer of 7 densities from the SSICS property (reducing its’ density allocation to 1) to the Diocese (increasing the density of their proposed housing plan).
Planning for the project took place in earnest from 1993 to 1995. The Cunliffe townhouse plans were brought forward and Bob Jawl (Pharamond Developers) took the lead as the developer. BC Housing was approached once again for funding and they conditionally approved 2.7 million dollars for the “Village Green” project. Challenges with servicing, septic, development size (which shrank to 16 and then back to 24 units) kept the developer busy while SSICS, the Diocese, and Islands Trust sorted out the details of a complicated tripartite agreement for the development. The agreement, which was registered as a covenant on the entire Diocese land parcel, was completed in late 1995.
In February 1996, after exhaustive exploration of site servicing (road access and septic), the Diocese determined that the affordable housing site be relocated from the “farm” area to the “park” area on the north side of their property near to Bonnet Road. This new location also proved to have road access and service challenges, which languished for several years unresolved between the Diocese and the Ministry of Highways. In June 1997 BC Housing withdrew their funding commitment once again as their current funding program expired.
Project activity was limited from 1997 to 2000, although talks continued between the Diocese and Highways. The Diocese struggled with the economics of completing their commitment to bring services to the site. The Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) took the lead on behalf of SSICS in new negotiations with BC Housing. The CRHC proposed a plan to separate the 5 acres from the Diocese development in an effort to resolve the impasses around site servicing. This did not come to pass.
In 2001 a new SSICS Board of Directors initiated renewed affordable housing activity. An Affordable Housing Advisory Committee was struck. Led by Ellen Garvie this committee undertook a community needs assessment, created a plan to establish a housing organization, and searched for funding. In 2002 this committee morphed into the SSI Community Housing and Land Trust Society (SSIHLTS) with a vision of creating affordable housing through a homeownership model. SSIHLTS was inspired by home ownership projects in neighboring US island communities (Orcas, Lopes) and understood the substantial community benefits of creating affordable home ownership opportunities for families.
In June 2004 SSICS decided to back away from direct involvement in developing affordable housing and turn the Diocese project over to the SSIHLTS. As this time the property was also changing hands from the Diocese to new owner Three Point Properties. Three Point Properties planned to complete a large upscale housing development, and observe the commitment to allocate 5 acres for affordable housing, while increasing the value of the commitment by releasing ownership of the 5 acres as a donation rather than a 60 year lease.
As the property changed hands a first round of legal documents prepared by Islands Trust excluded SSICS entirely and identified Trust Council as recipient of the 5 acre donation. This was corrected and documents were drafted identifying SSIHLTS as recipient, with SSICS second in line if SSIHLTS were unable to proceed. A CRD initiated Housing Task Force presented opposition to SSIHLTS/SSICS receiving the land. The Housing Task Force argued that the land was a public asset and could not be reassigned by SSICS, and that Trust Council was in fact the appropriate recipient. The SSICS stake in the property was ultimately recognized and a new tripartite agreement and covenant was written in 2007.
Three Point Properties began their site development and completed service requirements to the 5 acres. In February 2010 the ownership of the 5 acres was legally transferred to SSICS, nearly 18 years after the initial discussions between SSICS and the Catholic Diocese. SSICS was occupied at that time with other housing projects, including building Murakami Gardens apartments, establishing Lautman Drive transitional housing and developing an emergency shelter.
Attention to the “Diocese Property” took center stage with the SSICS Board once again in 2013. Rob Bateman was hired as a pre-development consultant to revive the project with the additional element of home ownership added to the original vision of family housing. By early 2014 project planning was active once again under the direction of a SSICS Board of Directors Housing Committee. Elizabeth FitzZaland and Green City Builders were hired to lead the project. An updated needs assessment was completed and confirmed the vision and need for a family housing neighborhood made up of home ownership and rental homes. VanCity Credit Union reviewed the financial pro forma and has joined the project with pre-development funding and a preliminary commitment to fund construction. A large private donation has secured the financial viability of the project.