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Bear Mountain views swing widely

Nov 15 2012

Bear Mountain's proposal to dig up nine holes of its mountain golf course to build new housing received mixed reviews Wednesday night.

Some touted the proposal - which would cut the holes to 27 from 36, increase detached homes to 435 from 185, and slash condos by more than half to 1,281 - as a life-saver for the development. For others, it signals a death knell for Canada's only back-to-back 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

The plan, drawn up by Bear Mountain Land Holdings, was unveiled Wednesday night during an open house attended by more than 350 people.

For Ernie Skinner, a shareholder in the Market on Millstream, the plan represents a potential boost in business.

The nearby family-owned grocery store has been waiting since 2008 to see the development reborn, he said, and the sooner the houses can be built and more families moved in, the better it will be for the neighbourhood and businesses.

"I wish them luck," Skinner said.

Bear Mountain resident Russ Trace was understanding of the changes. He said it seems like there is more of a market for single-family dwellings and townhouses than for condominiums. "I can see why they are changing more to that."

But Albertan Renée Olson, who lives in Victoria part time, said she bought at Bear Mountain for the Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

"If they want to arbitrarily decrease the value of my real estate, then go ahead and take more away from the golf course," Olson said.

"I'm very pro-development, but I'm pro good development. Bear Mountain is one of the première residential resorts in the world so it would be a great shame for the municipality and the province of B.C. if this plan goes forward."

Olson expects that residents will fight the rezoning application, which will go to Langford's planning, zoning and affordable housing committee in January.

If approved, the plan will chart the future of a phased-in development for the next 10 years.

No changes to the golf course are anticipated for at least another two years, said Gary Cowan, CEO of Bear Mountain Land Holdings, which has been running Bear Mountain's resort, golf courses and real estate holdings since November 2010 on behalf of owner HSBC Bank Canada.

Cowan acknowledge that some people are upset about the proposal, but said once he explains that there's limited land in Langford and any new neighbourhoods in the development must come out of the golf course, and that the golf facility is overbuilt and the market is decreasing, those detractors come around.

"We're still going to be the largest golf facility on Vancouver Island at 27 holes, and we're going to create a vibrant real estate community," Cowan said.

HSBC took control of Bear Mountain in fall 2010 after an eight-month, court-ordered restructuring. Bear Mountain had been under creditor protection.

Founder Len Barrie was removed as CEO in March 2010 at the behest of HSBC, the original financier, which was owed more than $250 million.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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