Nova Scotia

Owls Head land sale put on hold as potential buyers explore their options

The couple that wanted to buy Crown land in the Little Harbour, N.S., area for a proposed golf course development has hit pause on the plan.

Couple says the decision comes 'after reflecting on feedback from Nova Scotians'

This picture shows Little Harbour in the upper left, private land in the foreground, and the Owls Head park reserve in the upper right. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

The couple that wanted to buy Crown land in the Little Harbour, N.S., area for a proposed golf course development has hit pause on the plan.

Beckwith and Kitty Gilbert had a letter of offer from the provincial government to try to negotiate the purchase of 285 hectares of coastal Crown land known as Owls Head provincial park. The couple hoped to acquire the land, which isn't actually a provincial park, and merge it with 138 hectares they already own to develop as many as three golf courses.

But on Wednesday, the couple issued a statement to CBC News through their lawyer saying they would not be proceeding at this time.

"After reflecting on the feedback from Nova Scotians, the Gilberts have decided to take some time to explore multiple options for their existing properties in Little Harbour, Nova Scotia," said the statement. "This will allow for discussion with members of the Little Harbour community, provincial and federal governments, and environmental groups."

The statement goes on to say the golf course proposal was intended to "preserve the natural beauty of Little Harbour, including the magnificent seaside, rugged coastline, white sandy beaches, and breath-taking seaside views. They planned to preserve the lands and provide greater public access to enjoy the natural beauty of Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore."

What isn't clear from the statement is whether the Gilberts are completely abandoning their attempt to buy the Crown land or if they're simply pressing pause on the plan for a golf development should they successfully fulfil the requirements of their letter of offer with the provincial government. The couple's lawyer said they would be making no further comment at this time.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

A spokesperson for the Lands and Forestry Department said they've received no notice of the Gilberts' intentions.

Negative reaction to potential land sale

News of the golf course proposal sparked widespread community outrage because the government removed the land from the pending-protected status list of the Parks and Protected Areas Plan without public notice or consultation. The land had to be delisted before the government could consider its sale. There were also concerns about what the proposed development would mean for the land's ecological value.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has said the land, which includes a globally-rare ecosystem and is home to several endangered species, is not as significant as other properties the government intends to protect. The province has made several major land protection announcements since last fall.

An online campaign to prevent the sale and extend legal protection to Owls Head quickly started up and a former provincial biologist filed papers in court seeking a judicial review of the decision to delist the land. Last month, the federal government said it would not sell surplus Crown land to the province, which the Gilberts hoped to eventually acquire as part of their proposal.

One of the conditions in the letter of offer with the Gilberts was that they conduct a public engagement plan and Premier Stephen McNeil has said that ultimately it would be up to his cabinet to decide whether to sell the land.

Rally planned for Thursday

The Gilberts' statement said they've "been a mainstay" in Little Harbour for more than 16 years and that they've come to enjoy the people and community. Along the way, they've made donations to the local school and helped back local businesses, according to the statement.

"This care for the community grew into a vision for an eco-tourism destination to preserve the natural environment and create sustainable employment opportunities," said the statement.

A rally to oppose the sale of the land is scheduled for Thursday in downtown Halifax to coincide with the first day of the spring sitting at the Nova Scotia Legislature.

'Strong and growing opposition'

Chris Trider, a former provincial park planner for the Nova Scotia government, planned the rally and told CBC News on Wednesday it's still going ahead.

"That announcement doesn't change the sequence of events that have unfolded where the cabinet of the McNeil government met in secret to remove Owls Head from the list of protected properties area from the parks and protected areas plan and entered into a purchase and sale agreement," Trider said.

"I'll take any good news I can get on this particular issue, but it doesn't change the facts of the situation. I think that perhaps through their lawyer, the developer has been made aware of the strong and growing public opposition to this action by the government."