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Decades-old Highlands land donation promise scrutinized

Family says similar area to what was promised is protected
District of Highlands’ municipal hall. (Black Press Media file)

A decades-old promise to donate hundreds of acres of forest in the Highlands has come under scrutiny as the land is up for rezoning.

The McMinn family has applied to rezone more than 220 acres of forested land off Millstream Lake Road. The proposal would see the number of dwelling units allowed on the land increase from six to 10, and increase the permitted residential density from one dwelling unit per 37 acres to one per 22 acres, according to a staff report from the District of Highlands.

To offset the increase, the family is also seeking to put long-term controls to make sure a portion of the land, roughly equalling 60 per cent of the plot is protected, by removing the residential use permit from the portion of the land, according to the staff report.

Back in 2002, the family patriarch Bob McMinn, who had formerly served as mayor of Highlands, applied for rezoning to allow four units on a roughly 141-acre portion of the land and offered to donate 90 per cent of the total area of the property, roughly 342 acres called Kindwood Farm, to The Land Conservancy.

Twenty-one years later, that has not been done. In light of that fact, Highlands property owner Colleen Robertson, who used to serve as a councillor in Highlands, wrote to the district, flagging concerns about the new rezoning application.

“The community was expecting 90 per cent. I’ll wait for the McMinn’s supporting documents so we can see that (the donation) happened, and then we can check it off our lists,” Robertson said in an interview with Black Press Media.

Robertson’s letters were included in the agenda for the district’s Monday (May 15) meeting, along with a response from Diana and Libby McMinn.

In it, the McMinns wrote that while there was no requirement for any donation of park or conservation lands, “the commitment that Bob (McMinn) shared at the time has continued in the ensuing years and has evolved to reflect changing circumstances.” The letter points to the purchase of the Mary Lake property, around 94 acres of Douglas Fir forest, as evidence of this.

A portion of the land was donated to The Land Conservancy. TLC used to hold a portion of Kindwood Farm, around 72 acres in size, but this was transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2015, according to Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the Land Conservancy of BC.

This was done as TLC went into bankruptcy proceedings, the transfer meant “narrowly avoiding sale of the land to pay off TLC debt,” according to McMinns’ letter.

The McMinn family’s owned lands are shown in a map included in a District of Highlands staff report. The area totals roughly 342 acres. (Courtesy of District of Highlands)
The McMinn family’s owned lands are shown in a map included in a District of Highlands staff report. The area totals roughly 342 acres. (Courtesy of District of Highlands)

There’s also the ongoing process involving the Habitat Acquisition Trust which would see a conservation covenant put on 60 per cent of Sections 19 and 20, an area roughly 220 acres in size. All those lands – the Mary Lake Property, the 72 donated acres, and 60 per cent of Sections 19 and 20 – are approximately equal to the 90 per cent promise by Bob McMinn in 2002, according to the letter.

In an interview with Black Press Media, Highlands Mayor Ken Williams said council directed staff to prepare a bylaw for rezoning and is waiting for that to be brought forward.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this file incorrectly identified the mayor of Highlands in 2002. The mayor at that time was Karel Roessingh. Colleen Robertson was also incorrectly identified. She is a Highlands property owner. We apologize for the errors and any confusion they may have caused.

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