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Everybody wants a piece of Bowen Island Add to ...

The sales office for the Cape on Bowen real-estate development is a tent - mounted on a wooden platform, with walls that fold back to accommodate ocean breezes and the view.

That view, past the Cape Roger Curtis Lighthouse and out to the Strait of Georgia, makes up for the relative modesty of the sales office and is sure to be a prime selling point for the 10-acre lots now on the market at prices of up to $3-million.

For the two men who own the 14 lots, part of a 618-acre site that covers the southwestern tip of Bowen Island, the sales pitch is simple: Take a look around. Winning the right to make it, however, was anything but simple.

"It is a jewel," said Don Ho, a Vancouver-based developer who, with fellow developer Edwin Lee, purchased the property in 2004 for $16-million. "There are very few places like this anywhere in the world."

That fact is not lost on Bowen Island residents, who consider the cape's beaches and forests part of the backyard wilderness that gives the island its character. The site's relatively untouched state, and residents' desire to see some or all of it preserved as a park, resulted in a drawn-out planning process and testy town-hall meetings.

That furor has died down, after council last year nixed a plan that would have preserved about half the site as park in exchange for the right to build hundreds of housing units, including some multifamily homes, on the site. Bruised by council's rejection of a plan that had been months in the making, Mr. Ho and Mr. Lee proposed instead a large-lot subdivision, which won approval late last year.

Plans call for 59 "estate" home sites. Phase one, consisting of the 14 waterfront lots, went on sale in June.

But even as Mr. Ho and Mr. Lee begin selling their ocean-view lots to the world, some hope that parts of Bowen Island - located at the entrance of Howe Sound, about 20 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, and blanketed by stands of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar - can still be preserved as a national park.

Parks Canada officials toured the island last year, an early step in a process that could result in parts of Bowen Island being folded into the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. And, as reported in The Globe on Friday, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice has launched a feasibility assessment that will finally decide whether to create a national park on the island, a process that will come to a head within a year.

"It's very exciting," said Nerys Poole, town councillor and chair of the council's national park committee. Parks Canada's interest, she said, carries the "potential for a significant part of the island to be environmentally protected and offer recreational opportunities as well."

And while Mr. Prentice made clear the government has no intention if acquiring any privately owned property, since there is already "extensive public land," Ms. Poole said: "I know that Cape Roger Curtis isn't a deal breaker. It's not something that you say, 'Include Cape Roger Curtis or we don't want a national park.' "

Even with expropriation ruled out, the tension on Bowen Island over Cape Roger Curtis underlines the appeal, and vulnerability, of the islands that dot Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia.

Renowned for their beauty and mild climate, the relatively small islands are ripe for land-use conflicts. Skyrocketing property values over the past 20 years have compounded the pressure.

In the case of Cape Roger Curtis - named for a British admiral - family owners put the site on the market in 2002. Residents formed the Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society to attempt to raise funds to purchase some or all of the property. Mr. Lee and Mr. Ho, who each run real estate-related companies, had not worked together before but were introduced by a banker, who reasoned the two might have something in common.

On visiting the site, they were bowled over. The property was big - about two-thirds the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park - and boasted ocean views and forests, all within a 20-minute ferry ride of Horseshoe Bay.

They purchased the property in 2004, expecting to develop it within a year or two.

Since then, plans for the site have moved through an initial application to subdivide the property, through a contentious neighbourhood plan that would have kept half the site as park but pushed the density of the residential component past limits set in Bowen's official community plan, and - after that plan was rejected - back to a large-lot subdivision.

For some, that's the worst possible outcome.

"People have said Bowen will never be a complete community, and that's probably true. But we could be a more socially diverse. Instead, we seem to be saying, 'No, we're just going to be like Carmel, if we can make it,' " said Neil Boyd, a former Bowen Island councillor and long-time resident who backed the higher-density plan.

Many Bowen Island residents agree the island needs a broader range of housing, including seniors' housing, as well as amenities such as a community centre, said Gillian Darling Kovanic, a Bowen Island resident and board member of the Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society. But the number of housing units in the plan - more than 400 - and its location at the opposite end of the island from its ferry terminal and commercial centre made many balk.

Now, Bowen residents are debating an updated official community plan and waiting on a final decision from Parks Canada. (Officials would not comment for this story.) Not everyone is thrilled with that idea: There are worries about traffic and construction and how a national park would mesh with local concerns around, for example, the management of watersheds.

"I am nervous about the implications of a national park," Ms. Darling Kovanic said. "But maybe that is an opportunity for all these disparate voices to come together in a bigger vision."

The developers, meanwhile, are sticking to their plan - which, for the moment, involves selling phase one of Cape on Bowen.

On a sunny day at the site, the ocean air is fresh and eagles wheel above a rocky beach, appearing as if on cue to punctuate the skyline.

"This property will only become more valuable," said Mr. Lee, scrambling up a path from a beach that, under the developers' plans, is to remain publicly accessible. "Because there is nothing else like it so close to the city."

With a report from Rebecca Lindell

By the Numbers

Parks Canada has announced a feasibility study for a new national park on Bowen Island. The process will involve consultations with island residents and landowners, municipal and provincial governments and first nations, and is expected to be complete in a year.

Some numbers in the mix:

36: size (square kilometres) of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, established in 2003

6,641: size (square kilometres) of Banff National Park, established in 1885

50: size (square kilometres) of Bowen Island

15: number of islands on which land has been designated as part of the Gulf Islands reserve

78: per cent of land on Bowen Island that consists of natural ecosystems

14: per cent of Bowen Island natural ecosystems in a "protected area," such as a park

30: per cent of land base that should be set aside for conservation purposes under Islands Trust objectives

Sources: Parks Canada, Bowen Island Municipality, Islands Trust

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