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Offer in for Keating Farm sale

The Land Conservancy of B.C. has received an offer at the full asking price of $749,000 for the historic Keating Farm Estate in the Cowichan Valley.

If all goes smoothly, the sale will close the second week in January, said TLC manager John Shields on Monday.

"There are a few conditions that need to be removed as part of the offer," Shields said. "We anticipate in early January being able to have a condition-free offer from the purchaser and we'll be recommending that to the monitor." TLC went into court-ordered protection from creditors in the fall. A monitor has been appointed to help get the Victoria-based non-profit society to a financially sustainable state. It owes $7.5 million and owns about 50 properties in B.C. Some of its properties have gone on the market to help pay debts.

Keating Farm's $749,000 asking price resulted from an assessment of the 27.5-acre property, Shields said. TLC bought the site in 2005, paying a similar amount, according to consultant Masselink Environmental Design, which prepared a report for the organization shortly after the purchase.

The new purchaser's identity is confidential, but Shields said the offer is from a couple. One is a structural engineer who is planning to restore and repair the site, including the 1880s-era farmhouse. The farm has several buildings.

"They want to farm it, so they are going to keep the heritage barn up to scratch," Shields said.

Keating Farm is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

It has a small wetland, and an old CNR right-of-way crosses the property.

The TLC website says the farm includes a heritage orchard and fields managed for hay, grazing and mixed vegetables.

Wildlife includes Townsend's big-eared bat, Coynorhinus townsendii, which has a nursing colony in the dairy building, said Masselink's report.

The purchasers "like the idea that there are bats in the barn that can be preserved," Shields said. A neighbour has been farming the property, he said.

While opposition arose to a TLC plan to sell the historic Binning House in West Vancouver, when it comes to Keating Farm, "I don't think there is any inherent opposition to the sale," Shields said. Mortgage holders will recover their money through the sale, he said.

"The whole purpose of our being in CCAA [creditor protection] and putting properties on the market is to repay the people who have been creditors, whether they have been suppliers or mortgage holders. We have wanted to restore the integrity of the TLC by paying the creditors to the greatest extent possible."

Keating Farm is among the oldest in the Cowichan Valley. The first farmhouse was built on the site in the 1870s by the family of Alexander and Ann Blyth, Masselink said.

Businessman Andrew Keating doubled the size of the farmhouse after he bought the property in 1888, adding it to 4,000 acres of land he owned in the Valley. Keating hired architect John Tiarks to design an English-style Great Hall and dining area in 1894. The hall is about 35 feet long and 25 feet wide and features a vaulted ceiling, a 10-foot-tall fireplace, and intricate original panelling made from first-growth fir and cedar, TLC's website said.

In 1901, Keating and two of his sons died in the shipwreck of the S.S. Islander, which sank off Alaska.

The farm had subsequent owners. Hugo and Wanda Tews bought the property in 1943 and that family held it until it was sold to TLC.

The Tews operated a dairy, raised poultry and grew prize-winning grain.