VisionSandown explores future use of agricultural land donation

North Saanich residents being asked what they'd like to see on 85 acres of potential green space.

Participants in a recent Walk and Talk at the former Sandown race track in North Saanich talk about potential agricultural uses of close to 85 acres of land given to the municipality in 2014 in a deal with the site’s former owners.

What to do with 85 acres of former horse racing track is the subject of an ongoing community consultation in North Saanich.

This month, a series of walks and talks began on the grounds of the Sandown property, on Glamorgan Road. Led by VisionSandown, it’s a series of four tours based on the four main themes to emerge on land use from surveys sent out and completed earlier this year.

Those themes, says Rhianna Nagel, the research and project co-ordinator with VisionSandown, are: agricultural production; ethnocology (the natural landscape); the history of the site, and; trails and public access.

A week ago, Nagel and a group of students from the University of Victoria took people around the property, discussing the plant and wildlife values there — everything from medicinal and edible plants, to the proposed fruit tree barrier between the property and a proposed commercial segment called Sandown Commons.

The latter area is 12 acres retained by the former property owners, the Randall family. They have plans to turn that area into a retail space.

In a deal that took a few years and only finalized in 2014, they agreed to give the District of North Saanich the 85 acres. In return, they can create their commercial development, while tearing down the existing buildings and remediating the land.

The District contracted the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR) to lead a public process looking to determine the best use of the property — sticking with an agricultural theme. VisionSandown was created by CRFAIR and Nagel said their job is to take all of the community input and make recommendations to council next year.

Already, she said some ideas are rising to the top of people’s priority lists.

Agricultural uses are top of mind, Nagel said. Those range from community gardens and full farm use, to incubator farms — or allowing new farmers to try their hand at it.

“It’s actually looking to use the land to create a hub of agricultural activity,” Nagel said.

At the same time, there are people asking that the history of the area not be forgotten, and that the public be allowed access through the property. As well, there are still questions about when and how the buildings will be removed and the land remediated to accommodate agricultural activities.

A third walk and talk was held Nov. 7, discussing trails and public access.

A final tour of the grounds is Nov. 21, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and will explore how the District might weave the track’s history into future use of the land.

Nagel said VisionSandown will collect all information for a draft report to North Saanich council in February and at the same time hold a large community dialogue on the findings. Their final report is expected to be handed in to North Saanich by April, 2016.