Ender Ilkay, President, Cedar Coast Properties Ltd.

Ilkay, president of Cedar Coast Properties Ltd., saw an opportunity in the 236-hectare area west of Victoria, but it was eventually sold off to be logged

The president of Cedar Coast Properties Ltd. wanted to develop a wilderness resort on Vancouver Island’s south shore, but ended up selling it off to be logged

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is known around the world’s hiking circles as the West Coast Trail warm-up. But unlike the West Coast Trail, it’s not all under government protection, and it’s where Ender Ilkay saw an opportunity: create recreational cabins in a 236-hectare area in a destination short of accommodations for the thousands of visitors who frequent the wilderness between Sooke and Port Renfrew, even in wettest winter. But after four years of community consultation dating back to 2007, the Capital Regional District rejected Ilkay’s resort application. Last summer, in a bid to do something with the land and no offers coming from any level of government, he sold it off to loggers, whose work could very well close the trail entirely.

What is happening with the land now? It’s my understanding that Pacheedaht First Nation, a partner in the company logging the trees, hopes senior governments come up with a treaty settlement so the lands can remain intact.

The intent on the part of government might be there, but I have my doubts that this will actually come to fruition. When there are two levels of government involved, things get very complicated, difficult and slow.

Critics of the resort doubted the property would be logged, arguing timber harvesting isn’t economic on that section of land. Have conditions changed?

There are over 100,000 cubic metres of mature second-growth timber on the parcels that are easily accessible. Though log prices were down during the American housing crisis, prices have recovered. Through seeking a rezoning for a cabin resort, we were hoping for an alternative to logging the lands, but that obviously didn’t work out.

Didn’t you foresee local opposition? There are fewer than 100 people living where you wanted to put more than 250 2,000-square-foot houses.

First a correction: our proposal was for a 257-unit cabin resort, with each cabin having a maximum floor area of 968 square feet. By their nature, wilderness resorts aren’t located in highly populated areas. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is the third-most-visited provincial park in B.C. and we own the only private lands adjoining the 47-kilometre-long linear park.

So why the local opposition? 

Most of it came from Victoria, over an hour away. We had the strong support of the local First Nations and many area residents supported it as well, though there was local opposition to be sure. I was surprised by the power and organizational ability of the Victoria anti-development groups. They were busing UVic students to the public hearing that took place during the first week of school, with flyers offering free barbecued food and a tailgate-party atmosphere. The 300-person venue was full for three consecutive nights for the public hearing and the result was that our application was turned down.

Why do you think local residents opposed your preservation of 85 per cent of the land?

We were offering to protect 85 per cent of the land as undeveloped, open space as part of the rezoning. I met some very passionate and thoughtful people who were opposed to our plan and though we did not agree, I respect their opinion. They were hopeful that the provincial government would step in and purchase our lands to add to the Juan de Fuca Trail. When the park was created in 1994, only a 150-metre-wide strip of land was designated as park. Since we own the only private lands adjacent to the park, securing these lands would provide the park with protection from development along its borders. The Ministry of Environment dashed their hopes, though, when it stated that there are no funds in their parks-acquisition budget.

Logging could come right down to the trail and close it for safety reasons during harvesting. Is that still the case? How is that legal? It’s public land.

No, the portion that will be closed for logging is not public land. When the trail was constructed in the 1990s, approximately 600 metres of it was knowingly constructed on private land owned at the time by a forestry company due to topographical constraints. Since buying the land five years ago, we have asked B.C. Parks to relocate the trail to their own land, but that apparently is not easily done. Therefore if we sell the timber rights to that parcel, there will be no option but to close the trail for safety reasons while work is being performed.

What lessons has this experience taught you about recreation-property development in B.C.?

Actually, many parts of B.C. are great places to do business. However, there are parts of Vancouver Island that make it very difficult, regardless of the merits of a development proposal. There was an area on the Island where a few years ago, the local government tried to down-zone the entire rural area from one home per 10 acres to one home per 300 acres. The result of this drawbridge mindset is that those areas are very economically stagnant. You can’t chase away development, construction and population growth and expect there to be vibrant communities. Environmental protection is very important, and so is economic growth. Communities either grow or they slowly die.