The 114-acre Mary Lake property in Highlands is on the open market after the Mary Lake Conservancy couldn't come up with the down payment for the forested land.

Conservancy group’s last bid to save Highlands forest

  • Mar. 14, 2011 3:00 p.m.

The pressure is on for the Mary Lake Conservancy to buy a coveted Highlands property before someone else does.

The Brotherston estate has been listed for sale on the public market through Sutton Realty. The 114-acre property has an asking price of $5.2 million and includes five parcels of mostly-forested land surrounding Mary Lake.

The parcels are zoned for residential development and could be subdivided into a total of 13 lots with homes on each, Highlands district planner Laura Beckett confirmed.

But the MLC is trying to stop that from happening.

Director Bob McMinn paid estate executors $175,000 out of pocket for a conditional purchase agreement on the property, but that expired at the end of February when the MLC failed to come up with the funds to buy the land.

“Certainly I’m disappointed to lose money, and I hope it won’t be in vain,” McMinn said. “I still have a considerable optimism that Mary Lake can be saved.”

The conservancy aimed to raise $1 million through an innovative social media campaign selling virtual square-metres of the property for $10 to $100. But after four months of promoting the online campaign, it only raised $150,000 from donors outside the MLC.

So now its onto Plan B: The group is pre-selling units in a 24-unit co-housing development that would be built on 10-acres of the property if the land is secured.

Campaign outreach director Koi Neah said if 12 interested buyers make down payments of $15,000 on co-housing units, the MLC will have enough money to secure a mortgage on the property.

“Their money will be held in trust until we buy the property,” Neah explained.

The full cost to buy land for a unit is expected to be $135,000, which Neah notes is below market value. Construction costs for the dwellings will be worked out as the project gets underway.

The MLC has hired Portland-based co-housing guru Chris ScottHanson as a consultant for the project. He co-authored *The Cohousing Handbook* based on his experience working on dozens of projects in the United States and Canada, including the WindSong development in Langly, B.C., which opened its doors in 1996 and the Fernwood Urban Village in Victoria, which is currently in the development permit application process.

He said a unique focus of the Mary Lake project is achieving net-zero energy use for the homes, meaning the development would have solar panels or other sources to generate enough energy to offset any power residents buy off the grid over the course of the year.

“Co-housers have always been interested in reducing their impact on the environment,”  ScottHanson said. “At Mary Lake we’ll take that to a whole new level.”

Generally co-housing developments feature small self-contained homes clustered around a large common house with a kitchen for shared meals, as well as social spaces, shared workshops and children’s play areas.

Buyers work with the project architect in all phases of design, and they are often governed by consensus decision making.

Victoria MP Denise Savoie took an early interest in the project. She lived on a four-acre lake-size property in the Highlands in the early 1990s and has dreamed of moving back.

“I’ve always been a supporter of co-housing, and I did consider buying into this project,” she said.

However the time commitment involved to plan the development was too much for the busy politician. Instead she’s been lending her voice and moral support to the project and was included in an online video to promote the co-housing project.

“This is a truly inspiring project,” Savoie said. “At a different time in my life, I’d have loved to invest in it as my home.”

For more information about co-housing at Mary Lake see www.savemarylake.com.

 

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