Win $70-million lottery, and you too can buy a Gulf Island

There are dozens of green-tinged trinkets off the coast of B.C. that could draw more attention and perhaps make it onto the shopping list for anyone lucky enough to win tonight’s record $70-million jackpot lottery.

The Lotto Max draw is the richest prize ever in Canadian lottery history, and it could be enough to make the 31 private islands listed for sale in the sea between southern Vancouver Island and Alaska an attractive investment.

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A winner would only have to use a small piece of the $70-million jackpot to claim their own B.C. island, which have prices starting about $1 million.

But island investing is not for everyone, said island-selling expert Mark Lester, Colliers Vancouver’s senior vice president of unique properties. “Somewhere between one and four private islands will sell up and down the coast every year. There is definitely a market for them, but it takes a very unique buyer,” said Lester, who has been selling islands for 20 years and estimates he has transferred the title on more than 20 islands in that time.

“Owning a private island means you have your own moat around your kingdom. It’s not for everybody, but people who do appreciate being on a private island really do appreciate being on a private island,” he said.

Lester said buyers vary from local residents and local governments to foreign investors, often from the U.S.

They tend to have sufficient wealth to hire people to look after maintenance, or they tend to be handy themselves, he said.

Lester has five island properties listed for sale around Vancouver Island — Halibut Island just off Sidney, West Ballenas north of Nanoose Bay, South Octopus in the Discovery Islands northeast of Quadra Island, Lily Island adjacent to Gabriola and Jelina Island tucked between Texada and Lasqueti islands.

The privateislandsonline.com website lists those for sale along with 26 others in B.C.

Private islands are not necessarily just for the rich and powerful. At James Island, off Sidney, there are plans to build an exclusive community for the wealthy and well-connected, in a partnership with island owner billionaire Craig McCaw and Arizona-based Discovery Land Corp. But some of the smaller islands have been in the hands of what would be considered ordinary people.

Halibut Island, which has been listed for sale at $1.995 million since last summer, had been owned for decades by Hilton Clarence Burry until his death last year. Burry lived on the 10-acre island off the east coast of Sidney Island in a travel trailer.

The 100-acre, undeveloped West Ballenas is listed for sale at $2.25 million; 50-acre South Octopus Island, which has a small dock and old cabin is listed for $1.695 million; eight-acre, undeveloped Lily is listed at $1.395 million; and Jelina, on the market for the first time in 50 years and listed at $1.1 million, is seven acres with two seasonal cabins, a boathouse and an old-growth forest.

Lester said he has shown Halibut Island to a few prospective buyers, but it tends to be a longer game than regular residential real estate.

“[Islands] often evoke an emotional kind of response. Somebody can look at one private island and think this is where I want to be … and another may not resonate with them,” he said. “It’s not unusual for an island to take a year or a couple of years to sell.”

Lester said he often gets calls from people wanting to build resorts on these properties.

“Generally that’s not acceptable,” he said, noting local zoning tends to be rural-residential that will limit it to a main home, a workshop or storage facility and a dock. “Zoning and land-use regulations may vary from district to district or municipality to municipality … most will allow one home for every 10 acres and maybe a guest cottage.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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