Port Alberni Plans Massive Real Estate Developments

The City of Port Alberni has recently been in the news, and for good reasons. Two separate massive development plans have been announced that, when brought to fruition, will completely change the face of this central Vancouver Island community.

The first is a proposed 43+ acre waterfront development, on the Alberni Inlet, at the very heart of the City of Port Alberni. The second is a proposed 73-acre development announced by the San Group.

Changing the Port Alberni Landscape

Port Alberni is located in central Vancouver Island and is blessed with perhaps the very best location. Its central location provides convenient access to many of Vancouver Islands' significant destinations. Port Alberni is a 1.5-hour drive to the world-famous west coast Long Beach outside of Tofino, 0.5-hour drive to the east coast Rathtrevor Beach outside Parksville, a 1-hour drive to the island shopping hub of Nanaimo, 2.5 hours from British Columbia's picturesque capital city of Victoria, and just over hours drive to both the BC Ferries Terminal and a the International Airport in Comox.

In addition to the fantastic central location, the Alberni Valley is an incredibly beautiful place. In many ways, it is a natural microcosm of Vancouver Island. You can find Port Alberni at the foot of the stunning snow-capped Mount Arrowsmith, the headwaters of the Alberni Inlet, which empties into Barkley Sound and the Pacific Ocean, and the stunning temperate rainforests, lakes, and rivers that surround Port Alberni.

With so much going for Port Alberni, many are surprised that Port Alberni has experienced very little economic or population growth over the past 40 years. A significant reason Port Alberni has fallen behind its fellow Vancouver Island communities in prosperity is that heavy industrial sites and operations have essentially dominated the entirety of the City's waterfront. Therefore, the City of Port Alberni announced its purchase of five waterfront properties from Western Forest Products and its plans to move toward mixed development of the lands. This is incredibly exciting news and even game-changing.

"Each of these properties represents significant strategic value both today, and as we move forward in this changing community," said Mayor Sharie Minions. "We are grateful that Western worked with the City to achieve this agreement and pleased we were able to come to a negotiated purchase that recognizes the needs of both parties."

The Somass Lands Development

The City of Port Alberni has purchased five parcels of formerly industrial waterfront lands, including the 43-acre site of the former Somass Division Sawmill. The City's corporate Strategic Plan identifies a thriving waterfront economy and public access to the waterfront as two key goals. 

A City of Port Alberni publication sent to every home in the valley stated, "The City of Port Alberni has a unique opportunity to transform once industrial lands into a community asset focused on a comfortable mix of multi-family housing, park, and open space, local business and enhanced natural environment."

The plan for these lands includes the City taking on the environmental remediation, rezoning the land, and selling parcels to various real estate developers.

South Alberni and the Uptown Core

Over much of the past two decades, the commercial south side of Port Alberni has experienced a slow and steady decline, while the commercial north side has prospered. South Alberni was once the commercial hub of Port Alberni, centered on 3rd Avenue and Argyle Street. In recent years, the Johnston Road corridor has taken on more and more commercial significance, culminating in the construction of the Pacific Rim Shopping Centre in 2004. Contributing to this shift is the amount of traffic that flows through Johnston Road every year, as approximately 1,000,000 tourists visit the resort communities of Tofino and Ucluelet each year.   

Meanwhile, South Alberni enjoys Port Alberni's most beautiful public space – the underutilized Harbour Quay. Located at the base of Argyle Street in South Alberni, the Harbour Quay is a collection of waterfront shops and eateries centered around a working waterfront setting. Walking up Argyle Street from the Harbour Quay brings you to the Uptown district of Port Alberni. This area has undergone significant and ongoing revitalization over the past decade.

Quay to Quay Multi-Use Path

Port Alberni plans to build a 4 km multiuse path connecting the Victoria Quay (in North Alberni at the base of Johnston Road) to the Harbour Quay (in South Alberni at the base of Argyle Street). The purchase of the Somass Lands was critical to that plan.

The Quay-to-Quay path, the future mixed waterfront development on the Somass Lands, the Uptown district, and the Harbour Quay will collectively give the 1,000,000 annual pass-through visitors of the Alberni Valley a real reason to explore the town.

Chris Fenton, the owner of The Fenton Group, expressed, "If I had a nickel for every time we tour a first-time visitor to the Alberni Valley through South Alberni, they always express how beautiful the area is and that they didn't even know it existed." This exemplifies how significant a Quay to Quay connection could be for the City of Port Alberni.

Adding to the potential rediscovery of the South Alberni area by visitors to the Alberni Valley is the Government of British Columbia's announcement of a plan to chip seal and pave the road to Bamfield. Bamfield is a remarkably stunning seaside village in Barkley Sound that is relatively undiscovered due to a rough industrial logging road used to access the village. The paving of the Bamfield Road will undoubtedly increase traffic through 3rd Avenue past the Somass Lands and the Uptown district.

Pacific Mayfair Estates Development

Shortly after the City of Port Alberni announced the purchase of the Somass Lands, the San Group announced a proposed 73-acre development in upper Central Alberni.

"We submitted the papers to the municipality today. Its worth is anywhere from $900 million to $1.1 billion once it's complete in 5 to 7 years," stated Kamal Sanghera, San Group's CEO.

There is much work to be done in regard to the rezoning process. However, this massive development planned between Burde St and the West Coast General Hospital would increase the City of Port Alberni's residential capacity by nearly 25%.

The San Group had previously invested heavily in Port Alberni when it built and opened a sawmill focusing on cedar wood products. The proposed Pacific Mayfair Estates would include approximately 3,000 homes built with lumber produced in the San Group's mills.

"It's incredibly exciting for the community to be seeing this level of investment in our community and sustained investment," said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions.

Other Developments in Port Alberni

While these two massive proposed real estate developments are perhaps the most noteworthy due to their potential to reshape the Alberni Valley, several smaller residential developments are in various stages of planning around the Alberni Valley.

The Anderson Hill development, which is well underway in Central Alberni, is the most significant. This 23-acre master-planned community has added significant residential homes to the Alberni Valley through single-family homes and apartment buildings.

Developing Port Alberni

These massive real estate developments in Port Alberni will undoubtedly run through challenges and changes in the years ahead. Regardless, one thing will remain constant; Port Alberni is an incredible place to live in Canada and genuinely is the Heart of Vancouver Island. These proposed developments mean that the secret is now out, and economic growth is finally coming to this fantastic seaside community.

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