Published On: Thursday, 02 August 2018
Multi-Family Residential Developer Has A Westshore Focus
VICTORIA – Pacific Coast Land Company (PCLC) does more than construct rental accommodation, it helps to create local communities. Recognizing the ongoing need for first rate accommodation in the Victoria area, PCLC was founded in 2003 by a small group of business professionals with both a shared national heritage and a common desire to elevate the quality of the city’s property inventory.
“In 2003, my father (Jon Gulbrandsen) and Harald Skadberg, along with two other Norwegians, who all grew up in the same area in Norway, decided to launch the company with the goal of building multi-family residences,” explains Operations Manager, Ben Gulbrandsen.
“From 2003 to 2010, we focused on building townhouse developments. These projects were designed, built and then sold to owner / occupiers. Since then we’ve changed our business model. We recognized that Victoria needs more affordable, accessible properties and more rentals, so we made a shift to building larger rental developments.”
Ben Gulbrandsen has been with PCLC for the past three years. He returned from California where he was a practicing attorney. Gulbrandsen is not certified to practice law in Canada - he can however use his legal expertise while carrying out the scope of his duties with the company.
In 2010 the company underwent some significant changes, both in ownership and in its overall business model. “In 2010 Harald and my Dad essentially took over the operation of the entire company. The other two original partners were primarily interesting in building homes, so the company underwent a slight change,” Gulbrandsen explained.
Pacific Coast Land Company’s latest undertaking is the spectacular Pacific Lakeside project which consists of a 60 unit apartment complex taking shape near Thetis Lake in Langford. Ground breaking on the project began at the beginning of this year, with the project (located near the Six Mile Pub) expected to be completed by next fall.
“Harald is a very experienced builder, having constructed nearly 200 homes on Vancouver Island since the 1990s, so his experience and skill is a crucial part of the success of the company,” Gulbrandsen said.
Harald Skadberg, PCLC’s Co-Founder and CEO, moved to Canada with his parents when he was only 16. The creation of the Pacific Coast Land Company was a way to capitalize on his skills and experience as builder, while providing accommodation in a city in desperate need of new inventory. It was a bonus that he was able to work with other Norwegian ex-pats, including personal friends he has known since his school days.
“Yes it’s kind of odd how this became an all-Norwegian show, but two of the original directors of the company and I have been friends our entire lives- our families go way back. We’re not related, except by geography, but we really do operate like family,” he explained.
“I’ve been a builder my whole working life, starting out here in Victoria working for another Norwegian builder before going out on my own at a young age. My partner Jon ended up moving over from Norway and that led directly to the formation of Pacific Coast Land.”
Skadberg describes PCLC’s primary focus as a firm that purchases land, and then constructs buildings, mainly multi-family apartment buildings to service the city’s appetite for rental accommodation. “We definitely do a bit of everything, rentals and owner occupied properties. Certainly in the past few years it’s been mostly about rentals but it’s not always been that way,” he said.
Gradually expanding its portfolio of projects from developments featuring half a dozen or so properties, to major undertakings like Pacific Lakeside, the Pacific Coast Land Company is now seeking additional partners and investors to allow it to pursue developments on an even grander scale.
“Today we’re willing to take on investors or partners on various initiatives so we can take these projects to the next level. From the very beginning our emphasis has been on the Victoria marketplace, specifically the Westshore. We have found that we have an excellent relationship with the mayors and councils in both Langford and in View Royal. They and their staff are great to deal with and have been very supportive of the types of projects we’ve been involved with,” Skadberg explained.
PCLC and its owners have always enjoyed the opportunity and the benefits that working from their home towns has provided. “I live in the community of View Royal and think it’s a great place to be. The community provides easy access to everything, I enjoying living and working there. The entire Westshore area has a very bright future so we’re very excited to be a part of it.”
Gulbrandsen echoed Skadberg’s appreciation for the welcoming approach provided by the Westshore communities to their company’s developments.
“The Westshore communities have been very responsive to a number of developers including us, in large part due to the zoning regulations that are in place. The rest of Victoria needs to get onboard and recognize the opportunity projects like these can offer to a community to address the ongoing housing crisis. Going through six months or a year to complete a re-zoning, without knowing if it’s going to make it through, is a big risk for a developer,” he explained.
“If you know you have a good product and if you can follow the simple processes you need to get it approved it provides much less risk. That’s a big reason so much development is taking place on the Westshore.”
The ongoing building boom that has energized the Greater Victoria area’s construction industry in recent years, coupled with the Capital’s expanding population and its ongoing need for additional accommodation, has seen the Pacific Coast Land Company and its expertise in this sector come together at exactly the right time. Skadberg suggests that the success of the Pacific Lakeside apartment project could serve as a model for the company’s future endeavors.
“Our plan is to keep doing what we’ve been doing, creating more multi-family developments, perhaps making them gradually larger as we go along. We’re very excited about Pacific Lakeside. It’s in a great location right by the lake and the Galloping Goose Trail. The site offers easy access, has all manner of available transit options including biking and walking trails, add to that its proximity to Thetis Lake and you have a project that has attracted a lot of positive interest,” he said.
For Gulbrandsen the Pacific Lakeside project is a clear sign of the future direction for the firm founded by his father (now retired) and Skadberg created 15 years ago. “It’s kind of neat how a group of Norwegians, and for whatever reason there are a lot of Norwegians in Victoria, got together, and created this company that has ultimately led to this project. It’s not a prerequisite to be Norwegian to work with us, but it just happened to work out that way,” he said.
“There’s been a real evolution in the company as well, from our original build and sell model to the build and hold philosophy we do today, all coming about because of the recognized need for rental properties. When we began we didn’t have the expertise to build projects like this one, we were smaller and just learning through doing. This current project is really the first case where we see the input of other investors, where we’re not just using our own money, which another part of the evolving nature of our business and its business model.”
Moving forward PCLC could become actively involved in helping to provide additional affordable housing in a region desperately in need of it. “Budgets are being made available to help service this market, and our experience in creating projects on the scale of Pacific Lakeside would be ideal for building affordable housing projects as those tend to be in the 60 plus unit size,” Gulbrandsen said.
“In the past we had worked in the six to 16 unit development size, now we’re working in the 60 unit range, so for the future could see us expanding into even larger projects. We’ll be hiring another project supervisor in the near future just to help keep up with the next few projects as they take shape. Right now were just starting to bring our next projects together, so for the future we might see 100 unit projects, 120 unit projects or even bigger. That’s definitely the direction we’ll be moving toward.”
Having grown from a neophyte developer creating small scale developments, to the visionaries behind entire rental communities, the Pacific Coast Land Company has expanded and evolved to match the needs and changing requirements of the region is serves.
“Building communities – that’s a good way of looking at what we do. Once you have a larger number of people all living together you have to be intentional about creating some sort of culture and establishing the services to help keep that local culture viable and appealing.” he said.
“If you have six units people can general just choose to give each other solitude if that’s what they want. But as you get bigger, and you have many people interacting as they pass in the hallways, and while they are using the elevators you need some sort of culture and a plan to make it all work effectively. We have about 40 rental units right now, with Lakeside there will be 60 more, and with the project after that there will be even more. So we have to evolve our business as our model changes.”
Looking toward the future Skadberg, anticipates taking on ever larger developments, with the input and support of new investors and business partners.
“With Ben in place, we have the next generation becoming increasingly involved in the daily operations of the company, which really helps to prepare us for the future. It’s exciting and satisfying to see some of the great ideas Ben brings to the table, he has a great background, is a bright and hard-working guy so it’s exciting to have him onboard. I expect the company to continue to grow and flourish in the years ahead,” Skadberg said.
“Things have gone well for us so far and we’re looking at many more years of expansion as we continue to create new multi-family projects. We do the odd single family home, for very select clients, but on the whole our focus has always been on the multi-family market. Today it’s becoming more common to see projects such as these be more mixed-use in nature, where offices and commercial space is included with the residential elements, so that could also become an important part of our projects as we move forward.”
For Gulbrandsen the future looks equally bright as the Pacific Coast Land Company continues to grow, and to create increasingly larger projects, with the support of its new investors and partners.
“As the actual construction work is carried out by contractors the company itself is fairly small, but that size means we can be nimble, able to make decisions quickly, but that also means there’s no one to pass things off to if something goes wrong. That’s part of the appeal and the challenges of a company like ours,” he said.
“Our goal is to find additional investors, looking to expand into the Victoria rental market. Without additional investment we will continue on our current trajectory. But with additional funding, we can scale to considerably larger projects. We’re fine working the way we are, building the projects that we do, but it makes sense to scale in order to meet the market demand for more rental units. We are successful doing it on our own, but it would be a win-win to get other investors on board with a similar outlook on the positive future of Victoria.”