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Million dollar Cortes property buy considered

The Strathcona Regional District is considering buying a piece of property on Cortes Island for nearly $1 million.

The purchase has been on the district’s radar for several years and now the regional district is prepared to make an offer for the property, pending feedback from Cortes taxpayers who would be on the hook for part of the cost.

The site in question is a 71-acre property, known as the Whaletown Commons, which is owned by Island Timberlands and is located adjacent to Burnside Creek in the heart of Whaletown.

The Whaletown Commons Society, a non-profit formed to secure the land, has agreed to chip in roughly $60,000 to help the regional district buy the property which is appraised at $826,000 ($475,000 for the timber and $351,000 for the land).

Cortes Director Noba Anderson said the regional district would have to take on short-term debt in order to buy the Whaletown Commons.

“The regional district has over $571,000 in reserves that we are prepared to contribute to this purchase,” Anderson wrote in a newsletter to her constituents on Tideline. “These reserves have been built up since 2004 with your property taxes, private donations and cash contributions required through subdivisions.

“The remaining…required to complete this purchase, approximately $200,000, will need to be borrowed by the SRD, if not fundraised locally. Our goal is to pay the debt off in five years.”

Russ Hotsenpiller, the chief administrative officer of the regional district, said if the regional district opts for short term borrowing, approval from Cortes taxpayers will not be required. However, the regional district is holding a meeting June 17 at the Gorge Hall to gauge taxpayers’ level of support. Anderson has also asked for feedback from Cortes Islanders.

“The purchase of a property as significant as Whaletown Commons should be discussed at the community level as a best practice prior to any further advancement of the negotiating process,” Hotsenpiller said. “This engagement…would inform the community as to the status of negotiations, the process and results of the land and timber evaluations conducted to date, and outline the next steps in the process if the sale should proceed.”

The Whaletown Commons Society has already affirmed its support and at a board meeting last week unanimously approved supporting the regional district in purchasing the Whaletown Commons.

The society has been trying to secure the land for almost 20 years. The group wants to use the land to create a community park in Whaletown and to provide a spot for some of the community’s public assembly buildings to possibly re-locate to. The society also wants to protect the salmon-bearing Burnside Creek and, according to its website wants “to reserve this important piece of land for Cortes Islanders, so that we can decide, both now and in the future, how to use this land to meet the needs of our community.”

Anderson said she wants to make it clear that the regional district’s only interest is in the parkland.

“It is important to underline that this park would be purchased as a green space – and a green space only,” Anderson wrote in Tideline. “What becomes of it in the future will be up to the community and the limitations of the covenant (on the land).”

Anderson said the property is valuable to the community because it connects three Whaleton sub-neighbourhoods and it would become the first formal and permanent park in the Whaletown/Gorge area.

The June 17 informational session starts at 7 p.m. and takes place at the Gorge Hall.

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