The District of North Saanich was left surprised after its bid to construct a library on a piece of the Panorama Recreation Centre site was rejected by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
In a ruling dated April 2, the ALC Executive Committee refused two April 6, 2018 applications submitted by North Saanich to: (1) Subdivide a 0.8 ha (2.0 ac) parcel, and (2) Conduct a Non-Farm Use activity (library) within the Agricultural Land Reserve on the subdivided parcel.
Mayor Geoff Orr said the decision was unexpected and council needed to discuss whether this was an anomalous decision that should be appealed or if it was part of a new interpretation of the spirit of the rules by the ALC, necessitating a change in future strategy.
“The Agricultural Land Commission decision to refuse the North Saanich applications will initiate a reassessment of the proposal to construct a library on the Panorama Recreation Centre parcel,” said Orr. “District staff will take some time to review the Executive Committee decision internally and also consult with Vancouver Island Regional Library representatives, Panorama Recreation Centre staff, the municipalities of Central Saanich and Sidney, and Capital Regional District staff to determine the next steps.”
The extensive consultation is now needed to decide if a new library is viable on the proposed site or if alternatives should be explored, such as building one elsewhere or expanding other facilities outside North Saanich.
The ALC Executive Committee acknowledged that there is a long history of approvals having been granted for non-farm uses on the 6.4 ha (16.0 ac) site. They also stated that the two current district applications are “…consistent with the history of approvals on the property for non-farm uses,” but “…not consistent with its [ALC sic] purpose to preserve agricultural land or encourage farming on agricultural land…”
The Panorama was only going to be sub-divided for the library and Orr says because the current proposal is now on hold, there are no further plans to develop the rec centre with other initiatives. Worryingly, he says if this decision is indicative of a new interpretation of the rules by the ALC, the Panorama might have difficulty being developed in the future.
Council are scheduled to meet May 6, but Orr says it is unclear whether the ALC’s decision will be discussed then or at a later meeting. From an administrative perspective, there is no rush as the District have a year to appeal the ruling.