Forestry giant eyeing real estate

Posted by Rumin Mann
June 7th, 2010

What does it mean when the biggest private landowner on Vancouver Island decides to get serious about selling some of its real estate?

If you want to buy a lot in the city to build on, then not very much.

But if you’re looking for a 100-acre hobby farm, an ocean-side retreat or a mountainside lot for a ski chalet, then you might want to sit up and pay attention.

In 2006, TimberWest took a long look at its real estate holdings and whether some of it could be used for something other than forestry. “Best and highest use” became the company’s new mantra as it wrestled with declining demand for its timber.

The company owns 11 per cent of Vancouver Island, which translates to 325,000 hectares or 800,000 acres. Hard to fathom? Then consider that Stanley Park is 400 hectares or 1,000 acres. Last year, the company branded its real estate arm “Couverdon,” moved Timber-West’s executive vice-president over “to aggressively lead it” and hired Vancouver condo king Bob Rennie to help develop and market its properties.

Tracie McTavish, president of Rennie Marketing Systems, says Couverdon has identified approximately 50,000 acres of its real estate “with a higher and better use capability” than forestry, either because it’s close to urban centres or in isolated parcels detached from other forest land.

Click on Couverdon’s on-line map — — and you’ll see some tantalizing properties from Sooke at the south end of the island to Quatsino Sound in the north. There’s a 44-acre parcel of oceanfront, for instance, at Telegraph Cove, a tiny community known for its whale-watching. Minimum lot size here is 10 acres, so there’s potential for subdivision.

But Couverdon’s first two main projects are mid-island. “Headquarters” was once the site of the Comox Logging Company and is just north of Courtenay and close to the bottom of Mount Washington. The other property is “Elkhorn”, just south of Campbell River.

One might think that a big forestry company based in Vancouver and looking for some quick cash from the island would want to squeeze as many lots out of one piece of land as possible. Initially, Couverdon did want to consolidate the 13 original chunks of land in the area, then subdivide them into approximately 25 smaller pieces.

But the manager of planning services for the Comox Valley Regional District says Couverdon wanted to know what the locals thought.

In fact, Thomas Knight says Couverdon’ s strategy was “we want to meet with the people first.” And when they did, Knight says “they got an earful.” Locals were concerned the company’s plan for higher density in their rural farming neighbourhood with limited water (area residents depend on underground aquifers) would cause problems for everyone.

In the end, Couverdon listened, says Knight. “Having heard the fallout from the locals, they said, ‘let’s forget the rezoning, but reconfigure the original 13 lots and make them more marketable'”.

And that’s what they’ve done, creating lots that range from eight hectares all the way up to 69 hectares.

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