Q&A on meeting community and municipal expectations of new housing with Chris Bradley of TLA Developments
Ten on the 10th
Published June 10, 2022
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
Ten on the 10th's June, 2022 segment features Chris Bradley, a Managing Partner at Edmonton-based development firm TLA Developments.
Click here to view a list of former Ten on the 10th Q&As.
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
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TLA is a relatively new entrant to Victoria’s real-estate development industry, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and TLA?
TLA Developments is a veteran-owned-and-operated property development company that specializes in building new, multi-family, and single-family homes across Canada.
After a 21-year career in the army as an Armour Officer, my first civilian job was as a defence contractor. Later I worked in the modular construction industry with some of the largest volumetric modular manufacturers in North America, focusing on hotels, apartment buildings, condos and other large, multi-family projects before forming TLA Developments with my business partner Troy Grant.
Troy, after 25 years with the army, worked as the General Manager of Sturgeon County, where he learned and became appreciative of the many tasks associated with land use zoning, re-zoning, municipal development plans, area structure planning, and the approval processes associated with all the above. After Sturgeon County, he accepted an offer to become the president of Landrex, a medium-sized development company operating in the Edmonton Capital Region. That experience upped his interest in site selection and acquisitions and led him to creating a new, smaller land development company that would eventually evolve into TLA.
Some of our team have known each other more than thirty years and have long experience and trust in each other’s abilities and skills. By happenstance more than by design, we’re also a very diverse team, which affords us unique insights based on each others’ experiences.
25% of our team comes from First Nations and Metis backgrounds and are committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 92 – “Business and Reconciliation”. We are a proud member of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business working to attain Progressive Aboriginal Relations certification.
How did the TLA team come together?
TLA started as a 12-townhome project on Salt Spring Island in BC’s Capital Region.
We’re all Type A personalities that get up too early in the morning and drink too much black coffee, which is how one thing led to anther, and we now find ourselves with a diverse portfolio of projects in the Capital Region District (CRD).
What is it about the region that encourages TLA to build in here?
TLA wants to build great communities, together with the administration, elected officials and residents of the communities we work in. We strive to provide attainable housing for the middle class and get them started on the road to home ownership – our projects in the CRD reflect that vision and mission.
All communities in the CRD are the envy of the world. Who doesn’t want the opportunity to live and work here? Many are struggling to find homes in the area and there is a need for attainable housing, which is what we try to provide.
TLA currently has several projects in various stages of construction, approvals, and marketing. Can you outline your active projects for us?
We have five projects active in the CRD, which represent about 185 homes and approximately 185,000 square feet of buildings. Looking to the future, we have additional projects that represent approximately 200 doors and another 235,000 square feet of construction.
Skyview in View Royal is currently under construction and is 80% sold. We will be releasing the final eight homes shortly.
Our Sterling project in Esquimalt is headed to a public hearing next week and we hope to see it approved and start construction in the fall.
Ferrell, located in Saanich, is getting ready to launch our marketing campaign for sales.
Hylands, also in Saanich, is going through the regulatory stages and we hope to present to the advisory design panel shortly.
And on Salt Spring Island off the coast of Victoria, we are nearing the sell-out of our Summerside homes.
With respect to your proposal in Esquimalt, how has the project been adapted following community and stakeholder feedback?
We always try to be respectful of the communities we work in. Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with every project. We are open to compromise to maintain community cohesion while providing attainable housing for people who want to move to the CRD.
We have a team whose sole focus is engaging with our community partners, administration, elected officials and even community members and others who may be opposed to our projects. You never know what you’ll learn until you listen. Based on community input, we’ve adjusted the build program on our current project in Esquimalt, scaling the project from six stories to five, exceeding the energy efficiency requirements to STEP Code 3, as adopted by the municipality, and adjusting the unit mix to include a 3-bedroom unit.
It sounds like your team really takes feedback to heart. We also know there must be a balancing act between community desires, municipal needs, and broader market demand, all within the context of local zoning and guidelines. How challenging is this for a developer to address?
Change is an interesting thing, and as a developer, we’re purveyors of change. Change is a catalyst for action and reaction. When we invest our time and energy into a project in a community, there will be changes in the community. We’ll be changing the landscape, the skyline and even the make up and composition of the demographics. New, interesting people and families will move into the community. Businesses will have new customers; sports teams will have new players; trails will have new runners. Change also brings reaction.
People moved into their communities because they liked them. It’s no different from other changes, when people are invested in something: when the lyrics for the National Anthem change, a great many people will cheer the change and inclusion that they represent, but a certain segment will react negatively – “this is my national anthem, I’ve stood to attention for it since I was born, how dare you change it? Most don’t mean to imply that Canada should only be in its son’s command and not in their daughters, but changes to something familiar and cherished can be challenging. Although change will be uncomfortable for some, that doesn’t mean that the change is wrong.
As a developer all we can do is communicate truthfully, factually, and forthrightly and do our utmost to ensure that our projects meet the future needs of the community, not the needs of decades past.
How are changing costs impacting the delivery of new housing? More specifically, is it becoming more challenging to make projects work financially in light of inflation, interest rates and other market inputs?
We are cost-focused and numbers are definitely a factor in our decision-making process – either the project can meet an attainable price point and we proceed, or it doesn’t. We can’t predict the price of lumber, or delays in materiel due to supply chain issues but we factor a degree of uncertainty and cost-escalation into the process so that we can still be able to provide an attainable product for our buyers. Interest rates are a concern to buyers, but rates are still at historic lows and working with all our partners we will continue to provide attainable housing.
When speaking about housing types and unit sizes, we tend to apply historic definitions of household make-ups, rather than reflecting more modern realities. Can you speak to how household sizes have changed, and how this has impacted the delivery of new housing?
Families have changed, households have changed, and statistics have changed. The average size household in the communities we work in average 2.0 – 2.2 persons per household. Some families are a mother, father and 2.3 children, but these are the exception, not the norm and there are great projects that cater to the needs of these families.
Our projects focus on the young professional or a couple starting out in life, the single-parent and child, the grandparents down-sizing who earn a decent wage, but can’t afford the $1 million-plus price tag that single family homes can command. At TLA we focus on attainable housing– other developers are creating excellent housing options for larger families or for the more affluent.
What steps are you taking to ensure your buildings are sustainable now and into the future?
We are building to STEP Code 3, and we EV wire our parkades for electric vehicles and wire the roofs for solar panels. We work with experts such as our landscape architect to plant more trees than we remove from site and ensure the species of plant will attract pollinators. We also offer car share memberships or e-bikes to our purchasers.
Just recently, on our Sterling project in Esquimalt, we invited the neighbours and community to come and choose a plant from our site in hopes to re-home most of the greenery. We also have made plans to donate the existing residential homes where they will also provide attainable housing. This will give a deserving family a beautiful home to live in and not add to the landfills.
As we build for the future how do we balance the needs of the municipality and continue to build communities?
Our vision at TLA is to build great things – together. By collaborating and working together with the elected officials, administration and residents of the communities we work in, we will continue to build homes that support our communities into the future. C
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