British Columbia

Vancouver Island timber firm puts 54,000 hectares up for development

A major timber company that owns about 11 per cent of Vancouver Island is moving into the real estate market in a big way.

A major timber company that owns about 11 per cent of Vancouver Island is moving into the real estate market in a big way.

TimberWest Forest Corp. has hired Vancouver property market guru Bob Rennie to help the company sell 54,000 hectares of land — 540 square kilometres — from Victoria to Campbell River.

Rennie, who sold millions of dollars' worth of condominiums in Vancouver and the U.S. through his company, Rennie Marketing Systems, said the deal is one of the biggest he has ever been involved in.

"I don't think there is anything like this in North America," he told CBC Radio on Friday morning.

With this much land … it's just so easy to find the win-wins.

TimberWest communications manager Stephen Bruyneel said the firm has created a new division called Couverdon as part of a strategy to diversify out of the troubled forestry industry.

"We've actually been making the transition for the last couple of years from a traditional forestry company to what we're calling a land management company," said Bruyneel.

TimberWest owns about 320,000 hectares in total on Vancouver Island.

Working with communities

Much of the land slated for development is next to existing towns and cities, making it valuable to developers. And since TimberWest owns the land outright, it is not tied up in tree farm licences.

But Rennie said islanders should not be worried that the island will soon look like the shores of Vancouver's False Creek, where he made his reputation selling high-rise condominiums.

"It's not about urban luxury — that's the wrong way for the island," said Rennie.

Instead, the two men say they have begun working with community groups and municipal councils to develop long-term plans for the land that will include parks, half-hectare and two-hectare homesteads, trailer parks and other locally appropriate development.

"Our approach has been to understand what the communities need. Is it a park? Is it a community centre? Is it affordable housing? Is it a new industrial park?" said Bruyneel.

"With this much land … it's just so easy to find the win-wins," said Rennie.

Plans already in place

Deals are already in the works to expand the Campbell River airport, set aside land for conservation on Mount Benson at Nanaimo and create farmland in the Comox Valley, he said.

A similar plan by Western Forest Products to sell more than 28,000 hectares of temperate rainforest west of Victoria was condemned by environmentalists, but Bruyneel said he does not expect that to be the case for the TimberWest land sales.

"I've spoken to all the major environmental groups in the past three years," said Bruyneel, who points out the land will be logged again if it is not developed.

The two expect it will take several years to consult with communities, bring in developers and sell the land, and the company has no plans to rush the process.

And even with the decision to move into real estate, most of TimberWest lands will remain in forestry, Bruyneel said.

"We're still looking at over 80 per cent of our lands will still be in forestry. And yes, we're in a downturn, but we're optimistic that while it may take a couple of years, things look good for timber," he said.