Land Conservancy creditors support plan to sell properties, cut debt

Creditors of The Land Conservancy of B.C. have voted overwhelmingly to support a plan to get out of debt that would also see it sell many of its properties.

“It is a good day for the land-trust movement. It is a good day for nature. It is a good day for the creditors,” Briony Penn, chairwoman of the Victoria-based Land Conservancy, said Monday.

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About 40 creditors turned out for a 90-minute Monday meeting in Victoria to vote on the complex plan crafted by the non-profit organization, which has been in protection from creditors since 2013. Other creditors voted by proxy ballot.

The Land Conservancy owes about $8 million and has asked creditors if they would forgive a portion of the debt. At the same time, donations have been coming in to help the organization survive.

By the end of this process — which still must win approval from the Supreme Court of B.C. — the Land Conservancy would retain only a few properties. It would focus on working with landowners interested in putting protective covenants on their property.

The proposal will mean the Land Conservancy will sell 28 ecologically sensitive sites for $1.5 million to two land trusts working in partnership, the Nature Trust of B.C. and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The Land Conservancy returns to court Thursday for approval of the overall proposal and for permission to sell a 29 per cent interest in the Maltby Lake property in Saanich to a local buyer, who already holds a portion of the property. The court must agree to plans for all the organization’s parcels.

The Maltby Lake property is held by a number of owners. Some current owners, members of the Holmes family who have used the land for generations, are concerned the planned sale would change the pristine nature of the area.

Land Conservancy director of operations John Shields said the buyer wants to protect the area and not turn it into a busy place. Another protective society would also buy a chunk of the site from the Land Conservancy. A protective covenant would be imposed as part of the plan.

The bulk of Land Conservancy sales will likely take place over about six months as the future of each property is sorted out, Shields said. This will meet the proposal’s goal to pay out the first group of creditors within that period.

Some properties, such as the 31-hectare Wildwood eco-forest near Cedar, will likely be sold.

The Ross Bay Villa Society is running a campaign to raise $130,000 to pay off the mortgage on the historic Fairfield property, which has been immaculately restored, and take over ownership from the Land Conservancy. Donations stand at $106,330, its website states. The society is also hoping to raise another $70,000 to establish an endowment fund for the property.

A donor has pledged $10,000 for the Ross Bay campaign provided another $10,000 in matching funds is donated.

The Land Conservancy was founded 18 years ago. It ran into financial problems as it accumulated mortgages and other debts to buy properties and cover operational costs.

It aims to keep ownership of Abkhazi Garden in Victoria, Sooke Potholes Campground, and Madrona Farm in Saanich.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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