Long-time Bowser/Deep Bay family considers land use change for hundreds of acres

The Cook family has resisted development in the past

While there has been controversy about development on Baynes Sound Investment’s (BSI) property in Deep Bay, the family that owns four kilometres of forested waterfront next door may also be open to discussion about changing the use of its land.

“The community’s values seem to be matching up with the family’s values,” said John Stathers, a member of the Cook family, which has owned land in the area for 130 years. He estimates there are about 400 acres currently owned by a few branches of the family.

“I wouldn’t call us conservationists, but we’ve been resisting development for 100 years,” said Stathers. “We care about the environment and we see ourselves as caretakers, not owners of the land.”

Stathers was speaking after a Regional District of Nanaimo Area H official community plan (OCP) update working group meeting at the VIU Marine Field Research Station Tuesday night.

“This isn’t about our big plans — we’re open to the community’s vision,” he said, admitting he’s stirring a can of worms by “throwing our property into the pot.”

“We are very sentimental about the land and about its place in the community and since it seems progress is upon us, we’d rather be the catalysts rather than sell it off to someone who’s going to throw up condos,” Stathers said.

“The discussion was very positive and constructive,” said RDN director Bill Veenhoff of the group of about 70 people who had lots of questions and comments about the OCP, but he said there wasn’t a lot of discussion about the Cook property.

“People from both poles — if I can put it that way — made a pitch for co-operation,” he said of the question of how much development residents would like to see, which has been controversial.

“The elephant in the room was the BSI land,” said resident Dick Stubbs, “but the interesting thing was the neighbour to the north (Stathers)… saying they might be open to development.”

Surrey-based BSI has been interested in developing its 341-acre, forested property in the middle of Deep Bay for 12 years, though they are waiting to put another proposal on the table until the OCP update is complete.

While BSI has actively pursued proposals in the past including 200 single-family homes, a 292-unit trailer park and commercial space, Stathers said he is in no rush in what would be a long planning process, including having to remove the property from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The Cook/Stathers land fronts some of the most productive oyster farming beds in the province and Stathers said that there is a big misconception that agricultural land is environmentally friendly.

“Agricultural land is one of the biggest polluters of our waterways,” he said, suggesting the family is more interested in fostering the $30 million annual local oyster industry.

“The shellfish industry is vibrant, employing 40 people just with one company, and right now we’re completely allowed to put a bunch of cows in a hay field that would destroy that.”

Stathers said they are in no rush, even aside from the historically complicated process of removing land from the ALR. He said he’s just opening the conversation to what he called an impressive amount of smart talented people in the community, to create a vision of the future together.

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