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Sooke Harbour: News: Deertrail Property

TLC crosses Deertrail threshold

Norman Gidney, Times Colonist
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The end was in sight Tuesday for The Land Conservancy’s efforts to preserve the Deertrail property at Sooke as parkland.

A half-dozen lawyers assembled for the signing of documents that put TLC in control of the 63 hectares of property along five kilometres of the Sooke River.

“I signed all the papers this afternoon to pay off the first mortgage,” said TLC executive director Bill Turner.

A cheque for $1.26 million went to the lawyer for first mortgage-holder James Evans, son-in-law of Deertrail developer Albert Yuen.

There are still a few more steps involved, but “This was the key step,” Turner said.

“Weary jubilation” was a good phrase to describe the mood around TLC, he said. “It’s been a real trial.”

Sooke continues to oppose TLC’s park proposal.
One piece of unfinished business is dealing with four firms with liens against the property — two engineering firms, a building supply company and a general contractor who together claim $200,000 for work done for Yuen’s project.

They are unsecured creditors and normally wouldn’t get a cent in a foreclosure, but Turner said, “We don’t consider that fair.” The Land Conservancy will negotiate payment, although not the full amounts.

An appraisal of the property is another step in the process, needed before TLC can bring in the province and the Capital Regional District as financial partners on the land acquisition, likely for $1 million apiece.

The estimated value of the land has fluctuated over the years because Yuen stopped work at times, changed course, altered the original plans and got the property rezoned for a film production centre.

Turner said TLC will also be able to restart fundraising efforts, which stalled two months ago when it seemed that Evans might be successful in taking over the property.

That would have left the land trust out of pocket for the $1,375,000 it paid for the second mortgage and $120,000 for back property taxes to Sooke.

TLC needs $800,000 to $1 million to complete the deal on the Deertrail property, said Turner. Expenses have been higher than expected, including all the lawyers who have billed for a total of $50,000. While signing off on the legal paperwork, Turner was also looking ahead to plans for the new park on the scenic riverfront site.

“The first step will be safety and security measures to make it safe for the public. It’s not safe now,” he said.

There will be fences, and signs warning hikers and swimmers, but only around the unsafe areas close to the canyon edge and around the derelict lodge. People will certainly have access to the Deertrail property, he said.

“It’ll take five years to get this to where we want it, but the public will be in it from Day 1,” Turner said.

An engineering report on the status of the lodge and stone masonry around the site will be commissioned, to check for weather damage and deterioration.

Another early project will be a contest to design a visitor building that will have an interpretive centre, food services and gift shop. It might be just a trailer at first, but Turner said it will be important as a gateway and trailhead for the Sooke Hills parkland. The campsite that Yuen opened on the river farther upstream will also remain to generate revenues.

“It’s the beginning of an awful lot of work,” said Turner.

Copyright 2004 Times Colonist (Victoria)

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