Maltby Lake families head to court for ‘invaluable land’

West Saanich's Maltby Lake considered one of the most pristine in region

John Woody Thomson and Carmel Thomson outside their home on the edge of Maltby Lake in West Saanich.

The fate of a pristine West Saanich lake and its surrounding woodland remains in the hands of the Supreme Court of B.C. as two parties fight to purchase a stake in the property from The Land Conservancy of B.C.

Maltby Lake, an 18-acre private lake about 1.5 kilometres south of Prospect Lake, is home to freshwater jellyfish and sponges, painted turtles, cutthroat trout and considered one of the best examples of undisturbed ecologicial diversity in the Capital Region.

“Right now, our goal is to get the land in our hands for safe keeping. That’s the only way we can safeguard it in perpetuity,” said Carmel Thomson, a self-described “environmental steward” and resident of Maltby Lake with husband John “Woody” Thomson.

The couple own a 10 per cent stake in the 170-acre lands surrounding the lake, while another 55 per cent belongs to members of the Holmes and Dumbleton family. The Land Conservancy owns the remaining 35 per cent, valued at just over $2 million, according to documents filed by court-appointed monitor Wolrige Mahon Ltd. last week.

The monitor is overseeing the sale of some of 8,300 acres of TLC assets to help pay down $7.5 million the conservation society owes to creditors. The Maltby sale is now leading to a very public dispute between the Thomsons and the property’s other three owners, collectively known as the Holmes Group.

“The other families are saying they have no immediate plans to develop the properties, but they’re not promising an environmental covenant like we are,” Woody said.

Lana Popham, B.C. MLA for Saanich South, attended a Dec. 15 court hearing with the Thomsons and said she’s been mindful of respecting the private ownership of the land.

“But because TLC is involved, I think it’s in the public interest to watch this situation closely,” Popham said.

“It’s fair to say all the owners have been stewarding the lake to this point, but whatever solution we come up with as far as who owns what, the area needs to be protected,” Popham added.

(Below: A quiet afternoon on Maltby Lake.)

Complicating the issue is the fact that none of the owners possess legally distinct parcels of land. Rather, each owner holds a percentage of the overall property as an undivided interest.

“The undivided interest brings complexities to the situation,” Carmel said. “Other land trusts don’t want to take that on. So what we’re doing is trying to purchase TLC’s share and hold it in care until the property goes to fee simple.”

The TLC is keen to accept a $750,000 offer from the Thomsons to purchase a portion of its land, but the monitor states the amount isn’t adequate.

The Thomsons hope to convert the land to a protected park and say they’ve already received more than $170,000 in pledges from the Friends of Maltby Lake Watershed Society and others in the community to purchase the TLC’s remaining stake.

The Thomsons have promised to sign an agreement with TLC where they would eventually transfer the land to another land trust or the municipality, though many factors remain unclear.

“This is invaluable land, but we’re offering what we can to keep it protected,” Carmel said.

Michael and Richard Holmes, part of the Holmes Group of owners, have collectively offered $1 million for TLC’s 35-per-cent stake. The brothers said in a statement that the interests of private property owners should be respected and that TLC had been “trying to expropriate our property without compensation or consultation in conjunction with a minority owner of the property.”

“We have not developed or subdivided our property and this should be respected and recognized rather than vilified as developers in waiting,” the Holmes brothers said. “We are very respectful of the public desire to preserve the unique environmental qualities of Maltby Lake and believe we have been doing so as a family for over a hundred years.”

Properties purchased by TLC are regulated under the Charitable Purposes Preservation Act of B.C. (CPPA), which prevents land within a trust to be sold or seized to repay debts. A judge must now decide how to proceed with the Maltby sale, expected sometime in early 2015.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear the lake offers a pristine watershed championed for protection by biologists from the Peninsula Streams Society and Friends of Tod Creek Watershed.

“The plan we have presented to the TLC is a win-win for everybody,” Carmel said. “TLC receives some money to pay off some creditors. The land stays the way it is until we go to fee simple, and the community that’s helped us fundraise could potentially see a park there.”

editor@saanichnews.com