A new player in Metro Vancouver real estate development — Brilliant Circle Group Investments Ltd — has bought 230 acres of Imperial Oil land in Port Moody and Anmore to develop a master-planned new village.
The deal, which closed last week, includes about half of the Ioco townsite as well as the surrounding area, which is forested land in both Port Moody and Anmore. The purchase price was not disclosed. The property includes some heritage buildings and is close to an environmentally sensitive salmon hatchery.
The purchaser behind Brilliant Circle Group Investments Ltd. is an unknown player in Vancouver, but already owns properties in Vancouver, including the old Buschlen Mowat building at 1445 West Georgia, according to James Cheng, who represents the purchaser and is lead architect on the Ioco land development.
“We actually like the character of this heritage town site and we want to preserve it and enhance it,” said Cheng. “What we would like to do is get the real historic houses in good shape, fix them up, but at the same time, it has to be economically sustainable. It’s not good fixing up a historic house if it’s empty and has no life.”
He envisions bringing in grocery stores, coffee shops, arts and crafts, and perhaps an artist’s colony. Historic little towns that have survived often have a strong local arts community that becomes a tourist attraction, which in turn supports coffee shops and other stores, he said.
Brilliant Circle Group Investments Ltd (BCG) is owned by David Cai, a Canadian citizen with a home in Vancouver and Hong Kong roots. David Xiao Ming Cai is also the name of the CEO and an executive director of Brilliant Circle Holdings International Ltd., a large Hong Kong-based public company registered in the Cayman Islands that operates in three business sectors: cigarette package printing, printing services and manufacturing laminated paper.
Cheng would not confirm whether David Cai is behind the land purchase by the company with a similar-sounding name.
Cheng said the developer is not looking to increase the density of the Ioco lands, and wants to preserve the rural and semi-rural character.
“That’s the reason he liked the place,” Cheng said.
Robert Simons, president of the Port Moody Heritage Society, said the property contains the only access road to the Mossom Creek Hatchery. He said there is a community hall and a groceteria still standing in the townsite on land retained by Imperial Oil, as is a nearby yacht club.
About five renters live on the land that Brilliant Circle has bought, according to Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay.
Imperial Oil retained half of the townsite in order to maintain a buffer between any development and their industrial site, Clay said.
There are 60 single-family-zoned lots on the townsite property, even though only 10 to 12 houses are standing, Clay said.
“Someone could build another 50 all within zoning,” Clay said. The lots are small as they were originally designed for oil refinery workers.
The heritage buildings can’t be knocked down or significantly modified, but at least eight houses are “just boarded up and sitting there rotting,” Clay said.
A redevelopment application for mixed use would be a “significant problem,” Clay said. “We’re not currently contemplating anything like that. You’re going from vacant former industrial land to mixed use.”
Anmore’s existing density is one acre per house “and we’re not necessarily looking to change that,” Cheng said. The Port Moody portion of the land has existing 50- to 60-foot lots, Cheng said.
Clay said the city has not been approached with a development plan. “We have no idea what they are looking to do.”
“We’ve never planned for that area,” Clay said. When the land first went up for sale a couple of years ago, “a number of local development companies found it was too challenging. We figured it would be a 10- to 20-year time frame before anybody would develop on that land.”
“We really didn’t expect very much to happen there. The access is very poor. There’s one main road to get out of there and it’s a two-lane road. A windy road. There are creeks out there. I’m not even sure that this owner has any interest in developing this land. The selling price was quite low. It may be the land up in Anmore they were really after.”
The buzz is that the 230 acres sold for under $40 million, Clay said. “An acre in Anmore generally sells for around $1 million,” Clay said.
“What would we allow there right now? Basically nothing,” Clay said. “What would it take to put something there? It’s about getting traffic in and out.”
“It’s a tricky piece of property with tricky politics behind it because of the access issue and everything else. It’s a very politically hot piece of land ... for the city because it is so big and there is so much potential in an area with poor access and environmental issues as well ... There’s a lot of wildlife out there”
“We have a standing policy that we will not add any traffic to Ioco road,” Clay said. “It would be really tough for us to grant any new development out there unless there was a really good plan behind to it to accommodate traffic.”
That would involve building an extension to David Ave., which — because it would need to extend over a creek — could cost $50 million, Clay said.
Anmore Mayor John McEwen said that he met with representatives of the Brilliant Circle Group Jan. 8, but that no details or plans were presented at the time.
“I was quite shocked that the land was sold without having any consultation with any of the new councils,” said McEwen. “The other (developers) who came to us came asking what our feeling was to changing the zoning and the implications.”
The Anmore lands are now zoned for a minimum of one acre per home and that the municipality could handle the additional traffic if any proposal stuck to that zoning, he said.
However, McEwen noted that if the owner asked for a comprehensive zoning change to allow greater densities, there would be traffic issues, although he believes there’s room for “cluster” zoning. “Right now, they could come in and build on the Anmore lands and we’d have no power over them. And it could handle the traffic. But if they wanted to densify, it would have a huge impact.”
McEwen said his biggest concerns centre around the potential environmental impacts.
“I have environmental concerns with all the creeks and waterways, and there’s several of them. There’s a brand new hatchery now being built in that area. Also, the big thing is the semi-rural atmosphere of the area.”
Anmore Coun. Ryan Froese, a realtor with RE/MAX, said he too is concerned about the potential for increased traffic in the area.
Froese said another road would have to be built along with a costly bridge to cross Mossom Creek.
“They need another access road. Now that the developer has bought it, it’s something we’ll have to look at. We’ll have to look at how we’re going to manage and deal with this.”
Froese said that whatever happens, the community will want council to ensure that the area’s green space and rural character is protected.
“It (new development) would be nice, as it would give us a broader tax base. But we’re going to ensure that our steep slopes are protected.”
Vancouver-based real estate consultant Michael Geller, who worked with Imperial Oil as an adviser on this land deal and who will continue to work with the new owner, said Brilliant Circle is in a good financial position to properly service the property with new roads and other needed infrastructure.
The property includes some waterfront, and Geller said that there will be public access as part of the development.
The main reason the new owner likes the Ioco lands is “there is an opportunity for him to create a complete community and he can start from scratch,” said Cheng said he designed Port Moody City Hall many years ago.
“It’s a beautiful area,” Cheng said. “What we would like to figure out is is there a way we could do a modern sustainable community that respects the land, the people, ecology and still make it an interesting community.