Rejected subdivision would have turned B.C. island into enclave for wealthy, says Tsawout Nation

·2 min read
The Tsawout First Nation filed a civil lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court in 2018 seeking title to James Island. (CBC - image credit)
The Tsawout First Nation filed a civil lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court in 2018 seeking title to James Island. (CBC - image credit)

The Tsawout First Nation is welcoming a decision to reject the proposed subdivision of a contested island near Saanich, B.C., that it says would have turned it into an enclave for the wealthy Americans.

J.I. Properties, a U.S. development company owned by Seattle billionaire Craig McCaw, wanted to subdivide part of James Island into almost 80 vacation strata lots. The Tsawout claim the 780-acre island rightfully belongs to the nation.

A court case is ongoing to determine rights and title. In the meantime, a provincial approving officer has rejected the application to subdivide the island.

The island is assessed at a value of more than $54 million, according to the B.C. Assessment Authority. It features a main residence, about six guest homes, an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and a private airstrip. In 2012, McCaw listed the island for sale at $78 million.

J.I. Properties wanted to create 76 strata residential lots and three commercial lots but a provincial approving officer says many of the interests of the Tsawout are in play, including access to the island — known as ȽEL¸TOS in the SENĆOŦEN language — for cultural practices, locating archaeological materials, and concerns over increased pollution impacting fish, shellfish and waterfowl harvesting.

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The officer refused to accept the application, finding it to be against the public interest. The officer did say the company is welcome to present new applications in the future.

In a statement, the Tsawout said the proposed subdivision "would have paved the way for the development of a luxury resort community catering to wealthy Americans."

"This decision is an encouraging sign that the Province is starting to take Aboriginal and Treaty rights seriously, although they continue to fight us tooth and nail for the compensation and return of ȽEL¸TOS," Tsawout Coun. Abraham Pelkey said in a statement.

The Tsawout First Nation filed a civil lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court in 2018 seeking title to the island.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the governments of Canada and British Columbia to return ownership of the island to the Tsawout, and pay compensation to J.I. Properties.

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