In the early days of the Central Okanagan,vehicle traffic, cargo, and passengers coming from down Penticton way had to board a ferry to cross “the narrows,” a natural pinch point in Okanagan Lake to get to Kelowna.
Needless to say, completion of the Floating Bridge in 1952 and the new William R. Bennett Bridge — named after the Social Credit premier from 1975 to 1983 — greatly enhanced the fortunes of Kelowna’s burgeoning agricultural, transportation, and tourism industries and rendered the ferry dock and its ships obsolete. (Interesting historic fact: before the construction of the Floating Bridge in 1952, Penticton and Kelowna were roughly the same size.)
Despite its stunning location just a stone’s throw from Highway 97 and the bridge, this conspicuously vacant piece of land is only now being developed. A brand new marina and beach at the site of the long-since abandoned ferry wharf is part of West Harbour Estates, a 44-acre property developed by Troika, a Kelowna firm, in conjunction with the Westbank First Nations. Conceived as an “exemplary lakefront village,” West Harbour Estates takes advantage of a truly stunning natural location on a flat benchland overlooking the lake, the new William R. Bennett Bridge (very easily accessed from West Harbour) and right up the northern portion of the lake, bounded by the craggy, grass covered hillsides on both sides of the lake.
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Troika Developments spokesman Brad Klassen says West Harbour is “the perfect place for people who want to enjoy the Okanagan lifestyle.” Alas, this is not another boulevard of monster homes sprawling across the mountainside. The Tuscan-inspired homes plans — there are nine exterior plans in all — “right-sized” between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet. The money you save in home costs — a new house in a similar neighbourhood in Kelowna might cost at least 30 per cent more — you can put into a new boat; one that you can tie up at the dock down by the beach which comes as part of your purchase.
Klassen continues: “Boating is very much a part of the Okanagan recreational culture and our lakefront location is attractive to boat owners. We actually have a marketing line that goes ‘buy a boat and we’ll throw in a free house.’”
West Harbour Estates has negotiated a long-term lease with individual landowners of the Westbank First Nation, a band that Klassen points out “is one of the most socially progressive and stable bands in Canada.” Over 11,000 West Kelowna residents lease land from the WFN, and, perhaps more importantly, so do retail giants such as Walmart and Home Depot. “It’s important to recognize that the WFN has self-government and abides by the same rules and regulations that other B.C. municipalities do.”
To guarantee financial stability for the project, $5,000 from the sale of each new home will be put into a pooled investment that will appreciate in value as the number of years on the lease declines. Klassen continues: “This fund will help offset the depreciation of the land as time on the lease decreases. Assuming an eight per cent growth rate annually for 95 years, the fund would be worth $1.5 billion.”
Former Californian and retired minister Bruce Merrifield sold “at the top of the market” in Costa Mesa and moved up to Canada so that he could be closer to his grandchildren. He bought into West Harbour Estates when it was “nothing but a promise and a pile of dirt.” Eventually, the 44 acres will house 221 single-family homes, virtually all with a view of the lake.
He now lives in one of the completed homes (the Shiraz model) and admits that some of his interest is due to a family connection: his daughter Renee Wasylyk is Troika’s CEO.
Merrifield was excited by the multitude of amenities offered at West Harbour – the boat slip, 160 metres of sandy beach, and a communal swimming pool and an activity centre, the latter which will be built during West Harbour’s second phase that will get underway shortly.
With an outdoor pool, fitness club, sandy beach and walking trails on the property, it would be tempting to call West Harbour Estates a resort. However, Klassen much prefers the term “master-planned lakefront community.”
“Certainly there will be people from Alberta and the Lower Mainland who want to use it as a summer home, but most of the people who are here now see their West Harbour home as the place where they want to live for the rest of their lives.”
Some of these, of course, are recent retirees who have made a tidy sum selling property in hot real estate markets in B.C.’s Lower Mainland or in Calgary. In the initial stages, though, most of West Harbour’s new residents come from Kelowna sold by the view and the high-quality construction by Quadra Homes, a name that Fraser Valley residents may recognize from their projects in Langley and Pitt Meadows. There are even several green-tech features; Klassen points out the preference for tile over asphalt roofs, lowflow irrigation for the landscaping, all weather low energy vinyl windows, and solid wood style front entry door come standard. Half of the homes can be heated and cooled via optional geothermal heat exchanger unit which will result in a long-term reduction in heat and air conditioning bills.
As for the old ferry dock, well, it’s still there and is in fact being refurbished and will be towed up the lake for use at another waterfront development. Merrifield hopes the wharf’s removal doesn’t affect the fishing, which right now is “the best on the whole lake.”