A community-driven initiative to acquire the former Talisman properties in Grey Highlands is gaining momentum.
The Talisman properties are located in the heart of the Beaver Valley near the village of Kimberley in Grey Highlands and are currently owned by the municipality (two-thirds) and a private number company (one-third).
Earlier this year, the municipality of Grey Highlands and the owner of the private number company entered a joint-venture agreement that would see the properties promoted for a buyer through the consultation company, ThinkCOMPASS.
ThinkCOMPASS has since received a number of inquiries about the property, including two public presentations, one from a private investment company, as well as the Friends of the Beaver Valley (FBV) coalition.
FBV is a group of engaged citizens who have come together in an effort to see the Beaver Valley managed primarily as a nature reserve. The group is working closely with the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC), who is leading the effort to purchase and operate the properties.
In late June, the EBC submitted a formal letter of intent to Grey Highlands and ThinkCOMPASS, which outlines conditions of purchase and development.
“The wishes of the local community group FBV played a large part in the direction of our submission,” said Robert Barnett, executive director of EBC. “Strategically, the proposal focuses on our core principles of conservation and sustainable development.”
The group noted that decisions on land use will follow clearly defined principles, adopt long-term and evolutionary planning, and maintain public control for community benefit through a locally-grounded, innovative non-profit development model.
“We definitely have ideas of what we would like to see happen,” said Dr. Mary Ferguson, FBV coalition member. “Our founding document, Principles, created in partnership with EBC, is based in large part on the hundreds of responses we have received from local residents since March of this year.”
The group has outlined a number of principles it intends to incorporate into the development of the property, if awarded, such as:
- Maintain the land ownership by the municipality or a non-profit development corporation in perpetuity;
- Permit no chain outlets;
- Support irreplaceable Beaver Valley watershed ecosystems and natural wildlife corridors;
- Protect biodiversity and species at risk;
- Seek input and guidance from local Indigenous peoples and First Nations;
- Require tenant and partner businesses to pay workers a ‘living wage’
- Prohibit exploitation of land, wildlife or people for personal or corporate wealth;
- Integrate any new building into the Niagara Escarpment and Beaver River landscapes;
- Use contemporary best practices in sustainable building, including energy use and wildlife safety
“We know there is a lot of nostalgia for the ‘old Talisman’ and while it cannot be brought back to its former state, we intend to create new community experiences. Working with experts like those found at EBC and locally we are focusing on family activities that honour the natural and cultural heritage of the Beaver Valley,” Ferguson said.
ThinkCOMPASS is now required to present FBV’s letter of intent to the properties’ management committee. From there the letter will be presented to Grey Highlands council during the closed session of a council meeting.
After submitting the letter of intent, EBC and FBV also coordinated a tour of the Talisman properties and buildings with the property owners, as well as a group of building and trades professionals.
“We are putting some negotiations together on some offers to purchase. However, that must remain confidential until we have some final answers,” explained Linda Reader, FBV and EBC member.
Concurrently the FBV has also launched a promotional campaign for the project in late June.
“We are beginning with a three-month plan to raise funds for our project. Our GoFundMe site at ‘Nature Reserve on the Talisman Lands’ is an immediate strategy to target our over 600 supporters. In time, we will be looking for sponsors, matching fund donors from the local business community and pledges for the eventual purchase of the property.” said Stacey Howe, fundraising lead for FBV.
The GoFundMe campaign has since received donations from 88 individuals, totalling $17,000.
“Our fundraising has gone very well. We're fundraising for things like legal costs of putting in offers, working with some specialists that can give us better information about the whole site. People like landscape architects, representatives from other coalition members that might be interested in working with us,” Reader said.
Once the group has an answer from the municipality in regards to its letter of intent, it will begin the process of raising money toward the development of the property.
“We're looking forward to having an answer so that we can continue with our fundraising efforts,” Reader added.