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Home Sweet Floathome

Time Colonist June 1, 2003
By Norman Gidney
Times Colonist Staff

Westbay Marina owner Mark Lindholm shows off the first home in his unique development.                                                                      Debra Brash/TC

It's been a long voyage through municipal council and federal government regulations, and tough sailing around rezoning hearings, design and construction, but a new kind of subdivision will soon rule the waves of Esquimalt.

What's billed as southern Vancouver Island's only legal mixed-use floating village will be christened in July at Westbay Marina.

The first floathome is in place, a three-level angular, modern design with gas fireplace and barbecue, radiant heat in the main slate-covered floor, two bathrooms and two bedrooms.

It's for sale at $260,000 and also will be a display home for the floating village, which has 33 "lots" now and ultimately will total 40 homes.

Less expensive versions of life on the water are available, starting at about $190,000, said developer Mark Lindholm, who owns the adjacent marina and 61-site recreational vehicle park.

Finishing carpenters still have four weeks of indoor work remaining on the first floathome before the July 19 kick off date for the marine village. The angular lines of the tall floathome are already a contemporary contrast with the sailboats moored in Westbay.

Lindholm said he started on the floathome village in 1996 and it has taken this long to get all the approvals, permits and services for the unconventional development. The effort it took "tells me it's not something that's going to be duplicated in Victoria."

It's not like regular real estate. At Westbay, owners lease their floathome sites from Lindholm over 20 years, which is the term of his master lease from Ottawa. And it isn't a strata title project. The buyer's lease can't be registered at the Victoria Land Title Office, but it can be sold or otherwise assigned.

Despite the legal differences, Lindholm has had many inquiries, from the 21-year-old who wants something unconventional to well-off 50-plus couples. "This is the ultimate lifestyle choice," he said.

Floathome owners can lease by the month at 60 cents a square foot or pay the whole two decades' worth upfront -- lump-sum amounts ranging from $90,500 to $174,500, depending on the size of the marine lot. Owners will have to pay the usual municipal property taxes, too.

Lindholm is providing all the usual municipal services to floating residences and will install concrete floats to connect the homes. Each will be anchored with its own pair of 40-centimetre-diameter steel pilings. Floathomes will be arranged in an irregular pattern, different from a marina's pigeonhole style.

He runs his own utility at the site, providing all the telephone, natural gas, electricity, cable TV and Internet, water and sewer hookups to the floathomes, even an automated wastewater pumping system that sucks sewage out of floathome holding tanks and flushes it into municipal sewers.

B.C. Hydro, Telus and the other utilities "wanted nothing to do" with people who might just unplug and float away somewhere else.

The improvements and new forms of tenure have cost money -- some $2 million to date -- and the higher costs of the new-style village wasn't popular with long-term liveaboards who faced bigger bills to continue living at Westbay. Many have moved to Fisherman's Wharf on the Victoria side of the harbour.

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