Holdings would go to others in Land Conservancy debt plan

In the future, The Land Conservancy of B.C. would own just a few properties under a proposal that would see many of its current holdings going to other conservation organizations as it aims to get out of $8 million in debt.

The B.C. Supreme Court agreed Monday to send to creditors for approval TLC’s strategy for getting out of that debt.

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Creditors will vote on March 30. If they support the plan, it will go back to court for a final OK.

John Shields, Land Conservancy director of operations, said the plan would result in the organization owning only a “handful” of properties.

TLC would no longer buy properties, as it has in the past. Instead, it would work with landowners to put covenants on important sites. “That is certainly a tried and true method of preserving properties,” Shields said.

Its complex scenario — tailor-made for each site — includes new donations, partnership agreements with other conservation organizations, forgiveness of debt, heritage agreements, mortgage transfers, and density swaps.

Properties that will be kept by TLC include Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Road in Victoria and Madrona Farm in Saanich. It would also continue to hold about 200 protective covenants.

Ross Bay Villa on Fairfield Road would go to an existing society dedicated to the heritage house.

The Nature Trust of B.C. and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have agreed to buy 28 ecologically sensitive properties for $1.5 million, says the latest report from the court-appointed monitor.

The Land Conservancy would sell the majority of its share in Maltby Lakes in Saanich to owners dedicated to its preservation. The Friends of Maltby Lake Watershed Society have expressed interest in buying the rest of the Land Conservancy’s ownership, the report said.

At Sooke Potholes Campground, TLC is in talks with the T’Sou-ke First Nation to lease and operate the facility, the report said. A foundation has offered to pay taxes owed.

TLC entered creditor protection in the fall of 2013 and a monitor was appointed.

Debts today total slightly more than $8 million, with $4.5 million owed to secured creditors and $3.59 million owed to unsecured creditors, the monitor said.

Total revenue and debt forgiveness and transfer under the plan totals about $6.8 million, the monitor says. That figure could be increased by $2.2 million through revenue from a group of five properties, but that is not settled.

TLC, founded in 1997, accumulated properties throughout B.C., often by taking out mortgages. Many TLC members were dismayed as debts grew and they were concerned about how money was being managed.

Eventually, the organization imposed sweeping administrative changes, severe staff cuts and halted new mortgages.

Briony Penn, chairwoman of TLC, said in a statement: “Satisfying our creditors while balancing our moral obligations to protect properties has been our goal for the last couple of years.”

Under the plan, secured creditors would be paid in full, could choose to have their debt assumed by a third party, or receive the mortgaged property to settle the debt, the monitor’s report said. Unsecured creditors would get a portion of what they are owed.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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