Q&A on delivering 'missing middle' housing to Victoria's West Shore with Kyle Ryan of Formwell Homes
Ten on the 10th
Published September 13, 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 Tenth's September, 2022 segment features Kyle Ryan, Co-Founder and Partner at Victoria-based Formwell Homes. Formwell's mission is to build family-friendly housing with a focus on the townhome archetype.
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.
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd like to hear from you.
Let's start by learning about Formwell Homes. What is it that drives the company?
We’re a Victoria-based homebuilding company. Our focus is on creating more efficient, functional, and livable family-oriented housing options for people in our region, and we see townhomes as the best way to do this.
How did Formwell Homes get its start?
The company was founded last year by myself and my business partner, Sam Ganong. Sam and I had worked together previously within residential development in Victoria, which provided us both with the opportunity and perspective to really understand where we wanted to focus our time and energy. We realized there was an opportunity to create a better townhome experience for families; this was very much the catalyst for starting Formwell.
Late last year, Nick Saklas, CPA, CA, came on-board as the third partner, rounding out our leadership team. Nick brings an extensive background in finance and accounting from a decade at KPMG, along with strategic leadership experience that spans hospitality, hotel management and real estate. He’s a true innovator and he challenges biases, which is key for any company looking to stay competitive. I’m so pleased to have him as a partner.
Popularity of the townhome style of residential construction is on the rise, with more builders pursuing this style of new home construction. What sets Formwell apart from other builders in the townhome market?
I think our team brings a unique perspective in that all three of the partners share a background in residential development and we are also all raising families ourselves. These shared experiences together shape every business and product decision we make.
At Formwell, we talk a lot about evolving beyond developer defaults to create a better townhome experience, and I think if you walked into a Formwell home you would see we’re doing just that through a commitment to better design. We’re relentless about the details you can see, like storage and lighting, to the things you can’t, like advanced wall and floor assemblies. We believe that we can create townhomes that rival the comfort and livability of a single-family home.
What are you currently working on?
Construction on Washington, our inaugural project began last fall, bringing 34 new townhomes to the Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood. Slated to complete in spring 2023, Washington is a collection of traditionally inspired 2, 3 and 4-bedroom homes that are designed to reflect the neighbourhood’s heritage influences.
We’re excited about unveiling a brand-new display home at Washington, which will be available to view by appointment later this month. Since we launched the project last fall, the homes have been extremely well received. We held back the final five homes, which include some of our favourites. They will also be released this fall as part of the final release.
In the Cedar Hill / Mount Tolmie neighbourhood in Saanich we are currently seeking approvals on a 14-townhome project at 3834 Ophir Street. If approved, the project will consist of 3 and 4-bedroom homes in a location close to shopping, transit routes, schools and amenities. If all goes according to plan, we are hoping to be able to proceed to public hearing by the end of this year.
Formwell recently announced plans to expand into the West Shore market, can you tell us about your plans there?
We have acquired two properties in the West Shore, in Colwood and Langford, and we are in the early stages of planning townhomes for both sites. We’ve spent an extensive amount of time trying to understand more about that market and are excited about the prospects there. We believe there is an opportunity to bring a slightly different approach to homebuilding to the West Shore region.
The first site is a 1.74-acre lot at 641 Latoria Road in the Olympic View neighbourhood of Colwood. A few blocks away in the adjacent Happy Valley neighbourhood, at 898/914 Klahanie Drive, our second property totals 4.07 acres; it currently houses two aging single-family homes that were built in the 1970’s. Citified covered this news in July, which you can read about here.
What are you planning for those sites?
For both sites, we are envisioning a mix of 3 and 4-bedroom townhomes to meet the growing need for new housing for families in the West Shore. We are in the very early stages of planning in both municipalities, and we look forward to hearing from the community as to what’s important to them as it relates to residential development in their neighbourhood.
What makes you most excited about expanding to the West Shore?
We think there is an opportunity to bring much of what we have learned through our past experiences developing infill housing forms throughout Greater Victoria. The West Shore has seen significant growth as far as new housing goes over the last several years, and with this kind of rapid growth come new challenges.
We believe there is an opportunity to establish efficient housing forms that help to minimize sprawl into undeveloped areas, while providing functional family-sized homes that encourage a more sustainably minded lifestyle. This allows us to contribute to retaining natural green spaces and trees and provides spaces for people to connect with nature within their community.
Can you expand on some of the ways you’re working to deliver infill housing to the West Shore?
We’re looking at sustainability in a holistic sense. It begins with site location and how residents will connect to their surrounding community, such as access to transportation alternatives that support a more car-light lifestyle. In site design, we’re working to maintain open site green space minimums of at least 25% across all sites.
At our Latoria site, for example, our design incorporates nearly half an acre of naturalized green space along with the preservation of several mature trees, and the establishment of more than 100 new trees. In addition to onsite tree-replacement efforts, we are exploring options to see how we can contribute to reforestation efforts on a more regional basis when trees need to be removed for housing, and we hope to share more on this soon. We know that reforestation is not the solution to climate change on its own, it’s only one of several tools that when used together can make a difference in reducing carbon emissions.
During construction, we utilize sustainably sourced lumber and Co2-reducing concrete, to help minimize the footprint of building. We also build to BC Energy Step Code 3 or higher, which is at least 20% more energy efficient than the current BC building code.
We are always looking at how we can incorporate more climate-friendly features into homes. Building homes to be solar and EV-ready are two easy obvious ways we can help reduce a reliance on fossil fuels, while Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) units reduce energy needs by retaining heat in the air, and high-efficiency plumbing and lighting fixtures reduce water and energy consumption.
Earlier this week, Victoria councillors voted to refer a decision on the Missing Middle Housing Initiative to the next council term, what are your thoughts on this outcome?
While possible changes related to the City of Victoria's missing middle initiative wouldn’t directly apply to any of Formwell’s projects, we generally support housing policies that help in reducing the time and roadblocks to bring quality housing to the region. Initiatives like Missing Middle support a more efficient establishment of ground-oriented housing forms, like townhomes.
We know that these types of housing really make a difference for families, we saw it firsthand with our Washington project. For many, the difference in cost between a townhome and a single-family home is the difference between housing attainability or not. It is unfortunate this decision has been deferred despite extensive work and consultation by the City. We can only remain optimistic that the next council will see the need for this change.
What’s next for Formwell?
Despite the current economic outlook, we’re optimistic about what the next year holds for our team and the company. It’s a very exciting time to be bringing new housing to the West Shore community. At the same time, we have completion of the homes at Washington to look ahead to this spring, which will be a major milestone for our team. 2023 is going to be a big year for Formwell, I can feel it. C
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