North Saanich residents challenge Gateway plan

Victoria Airport Authority stands by its evidence in ALC exclusion.

The proposed Sidney Gateway. A land exclusion decision is being challenged.

Two North Saanich residents are questioning the role of the province’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) in its goal to preserve farm land, in a challenge of the ALC’s decision to exclude a property being eyed for retail development.

Springfield Harrison, supported by Bernadette Greene, filed on Wednesday, Feb. 24, a formal Request for Reconsideration, or appeal, with the ALC. He wants the decision to exclude the 4.4 hectare site from farm land, overturned.

Harrison is making his claim based on what he calls erroneous information used by the ALC in its decision to exclude the property from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) went to the ALC to have the land removed from the ALR, to consider creating a retail site, known locally as the Sidney Gateway. Working with Omicron Developments, the VAA has plans for an estimated 100,000 square foot commercial area, with a grocery store, financial institution and medical offices at its core. The project is in its early stages and no formal application for the plan has gone to the Town of Sidney for approval.

Harrison said the ALC’s reasons for excluding the land, which has most recently been used to produce hay, “are simply not valid.”

“It gave two reasons for its decision, proximity to industrial land and proximity to aviation areas,” he explained. “But none of those things are accurate, or pertinent.

Harrison asserted that the property is sufficiently far enough away from either of those areas, adding even if the space was surrounded by industrial land, it would still be viable as farm land.

“I don’t feel it’s good policy to remove agricultural land of high quality, for a shopping centre,” he said. “The highest and best use for farm land, is farming.”

In its decision to exclude the property, the ALC did indicate the soil is “land with good agricultural capability … capable of producing a wide range of crops.”

James Bogusz, the VAA’s vice-president of operations and development, said he’s confident the information given to the ALC was accurate. He pointed to a map of the site, clearly showing runway and airport space to the immediate west and south, a highway to the east and residential to the north. A corner portion of the property touches industrial land within the West Sidney Industrial Area.

“VAA went out of its way to follow the ALC’s process completely,” Bogusz said. “Comments from the public were part of that process, as well as fact from (us). We expect their decision to be upheld.”

Harrison called such exclusions of land – even if small ones, as is the case here – part of a ‘death of a thousand cuts’ to agricultural land in the province.

His appeal included support from various area residents, community and environmental groups.

The document also expresses concern that ALC Chair, Frank Leonard, is also a member of the VAA board of directors – a potential conflict of interest Harrison said was not addressed in the ALC’s decision.

Bogusz said he’s aware of the allegation of potential conflict, saying Leonard, in his role as a VAA board member, excluded himself from the issue completely.

Harrison said his appeal is now with the ALC, where they will decide whether it is heard.