Building construction has started on the controversial 580-acre Southlands community in Tsawwassen, 30 years after the land was purchased and 14 years since a development proposal was first pitched to Delta council.
Approved in 2016 after years of often raucous debate, the resulting Southlands project is unique in that 80 per cent of the land has been given back to Delta as publicly owned farmland, community gardens and 100 acres of parks and natural areas, said Sean Hodgins, now president of Century Group.
The Southlands was removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve by the province in the early 1980s.
Considered the biggest “agri-hood” in North America, Hodgins said the concept was always for retention of some agricultural space since his father, George Hodgins, bought the site in 1990, but he conceded Century Group had originally planned on holding about 70 per cent of the site for private development.
Of the 430 acres at Southlands transferred to Delta, his company is leasing back 50 acres to curate the Southlands farm, which is then subleased to local farmers.
Hodgins said Century Group is currently working with producers Snow Farms and Salt & Harrow to grow produce that will be sold at the Southlands farm market.
The farm market square, including a heritage house, barn and an agricultural support building, was built by Century Group but will be owned by Delta.
The journey is far from over, however.
“We haven’t really started yet,” Hodgins said on May 15, explaining that the first homes, being built on spec, will not be complete until this September with the construction of four cottages and the first of 72 townhouses in the initial phase. Currently, Century Group is installing all the infrastructure needed, on its own dime. The complete residential component of Southlands will take eight to 10 years to build.
Reflecting on what has become a “lifetime of work” Hodgins said the delays and the associated costs in getting development approval is common in municipalities across Metro Vancouver.
“I can understand why housing prices are so high,” he said.