Monks Point is idling.
When Tofino triumphantly announced it had purchased the iconic local landmark from The Land Conservancy for $250,000 in October 2015, the news was met with local jubilation as widespread fears over the property falling into the hands of a developer melted away.
The elevated and picturesque, roughly two-acre, property that sits at the northern edge of Tofino surrounded by water views and home to unique trails and gardens, has sat stagnant since then.
During Tofino’s last council meeting of 2016, on Dec. 6, Coun. Cathy Thicke wondered why a long-term management plan for the site had not yet been presented.
“We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years and we, as a council, noted the importance of that before we even got to the point where we are now,” she said. “We understood that, that was a very important component and I’m personally quite concerned about the upkeep of the property too. I’d like to know where we’re at…How are we going to move this forward?”
Mayor Josie Osborne said conversations around the site’s development are ongoing and include potential partners, including the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
“I realize that it’s slower than anybody had hoped for, but it is in play,” she said.
She said Thicke’s concern about the area’s upkeep was a separate issue and suggested the district reach out to its public works crew for an update.
“We’ve had a lot of really great volunteer help on the property in the past,” she said. “People are really committed to helping to keep the garden up and such and, I think, there’s a role for that kind of assistance in the interim, while we work on what we’re doing.”
Tofino’s CAO Bob MacPherson told the Westerly last week that nothing has happened at the property because the district is sniffing out potential funding partnerships before putting a plan together.
“We’re working with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and, at this point, we’re exploring some funding opportunities that will mean local taxpayers would pay less for whatever we do there,” he said.
“We’re looking at Tla-o-qui-aht as a partner and we’re looking for other funding partners.”
No public feedback has been collected since Tofino acquired the land, but MacPherson said locals will likely have an opportunity for input “this year,” though he would not commit to a specific timeline.
“What we’re trying to do now, is establish what the relationship is going to be like with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, to whom this piece of land is very, very important, to set up a framework for how we’re going to do the planning and then manage that land in conjunction with them,” he said.
“Once that framework is in place, I think we’ll feel like we’re in a good spot to go and have a conversation with our respective communities.”
He said the district has no preconceived direction to steer the land towards and that it’s future use will be up to the public’s wishes.
“At this point it’s a blank slate,” he said. “We’re going into this with very open minds. The land means a lot to the history of Tla-o-qui-aht and it has a lot of history for Tofino residents and we want to hear what people’s aspirations are for that land before really going very far with this.”
MacPherson said purchasing Monks Point was a solid investment and he touted the property as a potential Stanley Park-like asset for Tofino.
“It’s got tremendous views. It has some mature trees on it. It has significant history, including pre-contact history, associated with it. We wanted to be sure that it would become some kind of legacy for the community, rather than a development piece of land,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for this community.”
As was reported by the Westerly News, the opportunity wasn’t easy to obtain.
Monks Point was bequeathed to The Land Conservancy in 2008 by longtime local Harold Monks, who wanted to ensure the site would be preserved after his passing, but TLC ran into financial trouble in 2013 and began selling off its properties in an effort to pay off roughly $8 million of debt.
The idea that Monks Point could be sold to a developer and transformed from an idyllic green space into a profit-generating operation, like a resort, brought a loud local outcry and prompted the district to try purchasing the site itself.
The property carried an assessed value of $1.2 million at the time, but the district offered $250,000 for it in July, 2014, hoping TLC would see the benefit of keeping Harold Monks’ dream alive.
That offer was denied, but Tofino’s expressed interest and continued negotiations led to a three-player deal being struck in September.
The deal involved one of the TLC’s creditors, Carlyon Holdings Limited, relieving TLC of $1 million worth of debt in exchange for the TLC accepting Tofino’s $250,000 offer and Tofino, in turn, providing a written commitment to preserve the land for the community’s benefit.
Tofino’s municipal council happily obliged Carlyon’s request and passed a Park Dedication Bylaw on Oct. 13, 2015.
The $250,000 price tag was paid for out of a park reserve fund Tofino had established several years prior. During a Nov. 5 2015 interview with the Westerly News, MacPherson noted the fund contained enough money to complete the deal without the district taking out a loan.
“We did not borrow to do this,” he said.