‘Coombs-like’ market slated for Saltair

Local landowner proposes an open-air market for Saltair. The unique concept will transform the development into 'a destination spot.'

John Morris proposes container structures for his Saltair market similar to Keith Dewey’s “Zigloo Domestique” in Victoria

A Coombs-like open-air market has been proposed for Saltair by a local landowner.

The proposal, dubbed the Stocking Creek Open Market, is the brainchild of John Morris, owner of Saltair Self-Storage, the Saltair Mobile Home Park and HomeFront Modulars, a Cowichan Valley modular home dealership.

Morris aims to develop the vacant lot south of the mobile home park into an open-air market where shops and restaurants — owned by the retailers themselves and managed by a strata council — would be housed in converted shipping containers.

The market’s novel and unique architecture will draw people in, Morris said, transforming it into “a destination spot.”

Common design themes liked brushed aluminum roofing and cedar siding would help make the market “visually very attractive,” Morris said, as would the development’s “green-focused” walkways and garden-like green spaces.

The development would be pedestrian-focused, Morris said, to draw people out of their cars as they wander through the market.

Morris thinks Stocking Creek would serve as an ideal location for local artisans and farmers selling the fruits of their labours. Others have expressed interest in operating coffee shops, soup and sandwich shops, a specialty wine store and a physiotherapy clinic onsite, Morris said.

Vacant storefronts and surplus retail space in nearby Ladysmith haven’t deterred Morris, who is “definitely” convinced demand for a development like Stocking Creek exists in Saltair.

“The biggest demand for this is this isn’t rental,” Morris said. “This is ownership. And it’s ownership at extremely low costs for a commercial development.”

Morris estimates monthly mortgage payments on Stocking Creek lots and buildings will be “between $450 and $600 a month,” he said, making for a “good opportunity for a lot of small businesses.”

With monthly mortgage payments costing “significantly less” than renting or leasing elsewhere, Stocking Creek retailers would cut costs while “building an asset,” Morris added.

Building up “brick-and-mortar” equity through their business would be a “huge value enhancement” for would-be owners, he added.

The market would be housed on a vacant lot, currently owned by Morris, measuring 140 feet wide by roughly 650 feet long.

Morris aims to convert the lot to a commercial strata property with a service road and common area fronting a strip of 20 individually owned lots measuring 25 by 80 feet each.

The lot, located in CVRD Electoral Area G, is currently zoned “Local Commercial” or C2, Morris said, meaning approved uses include bakeries, offices, restaurants and retail stores.

No change of zoning will be required, Morris said, but a variance on lot size and setbacks will be necessary.

Morris submitted an application for the necessary variances to the CVRD “three weeks ago,” he said, and he expects a decision in “eight to 12 months.”

Under the existing zoning rules owners are allowed 50 per cent lot coverage, Morris said. At 2,000 square feet apiece, Stocking Creek lots allow owners to “easily achieve around 1,000 to 1,100 square feet” of building space, Morris said, with room to spare on the remainder of the lot for displays or exhibits.

If a business owner requires additional space, building up is an option, Morris said, provided their design receives approval from the strata council.

The concept of using “upcycled” shipping and storage containers for homes and retail space has caught on in Europe where space is a precious commodity, Morris said, but it’s still relatively uncommon in North America. Corrugated steel containers are incredibly strong and can be stacked 10-high, Morris added, but once they’re incorporated into buildings, they’re rarely recognized for what they are.

“These won’t look like shipping containers,” he added.

If approved, Morris expects the project to have “a really positive impact on property values” in the Saltair area, he said, adding that everyone he’s spoken to “has been very positive and supportive.”

At $600 per month for 1000 square feet, Stocking Creek Open Market spaces are priced at roughly $7 per square foot per year, strata fees excluded. By comparison, lease rates for retail space in Ladysmith begin at $8 per square foot.

Jill Dashwood, a realtor with Coast Realty Group, said there are three retail locations on First Avenue in Ladysmith listed for lease at rates of $8 to $12 per square foot. Space at Coronation Mall, meanwhile leases for $14 to $16 per square foot, Dashwood added.

A number of retail spaces are available for rent as well, Dashwood said. A 2,400-square-foot, street-level space on Buller Street — the former Benjamin Moore paint store — rents for $2000 per month, while 16 High Street — formerly The Cash Store — offers 1,500 square feet of space for $1,300 a month.

“Ownership,” Dashwood said, “carries greater risks and responsibilities, but — for those that can afford it — greater opportunities, too.”

For more information on the Stocking Creek Open Market, contact Morris at 250-710-0765.