By Tim Collins/Contributor
It has taken several years of negotiations, public meetings and planning but the blueprint for redeveloping the 39-hectare site of North Saanich’s Sandown Park appears to be all but set.
All that’s required now is the final approval of council on Oct. 7 and the once proud home of horse racing in the District of North Saanich will once again become a productive part of the community.
The plan has been made possible through what North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall calls a very generous offer on the part of the owners of the property, the Vancouver-based Randall Family and the development group, Omicron.
“This offer will return much of the land to agricultural use, but at the same time result in a 12 acre (4.85 hectare) commercial development. The net benefit for the community will be tremendous,” said Finall.
Specifically, the plan calls for 33.6 hectares to be gifted to the District of North Saanich. That land will be returned to use that is in keeping with its agricultural zoning.
The Randall family and Omicron will retain the remaining 4.85 hectares with the understanding that their parcel of land will be rezoned to allow for commercial development.
No residential development is planned as part of the proposal.
“The deal is slated to add $1.2 million to our tax base in the first five years, according to the business plan,” said Finall. “It’s a good deal for everyone concerned, and a very generous offer by the Randall family.”
Although similar proposals have existed since about 2010, the sticking point has always involved the remediation of the property.
“There was the removal of the grandstands, stables and other buildings,” said Finall, “as well as dealing with the actual track. Limestone was placed there as a base for the race track and that needs to be removed if the land is to be used for agriculture.” The remediation, estimated at $700,000, had been a sticking point for earlier proposals but will now be done by the current owners of the land.
The issue of remediation was also complicated by the fact that the whole parcel of land is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, which made the remediation mandatory. It also meant that the whole proposal needed the approval of the CRD. That approval has been granted, conditional upon the district’s agreement that they would replace the rezoned 4.85 hectares of agricultural land with a similarly sized parcel of municipal land that will be placed within the reserve.
That “land swap” addresses the requirement within the rules of the Agricultural Land Reserve that there be compensation for land removed from the ALR.
Finall said that the plan has a very high level of community support and addresses the concern of citizens that something had to be done about this large parcel of vacant land in the heart of the district.
“We haven’t any definite plans for the land at the moment, but we’re not planning to get into farming there,” said Finall. “It’s more likely that we create trails and allow public access to a great natural area. But all that remains to be seen.”
Finall admits to a bit of nostalgia when dealing with the Sandown property. “Sure, my family used to go watch the races,” she said. “It was a nice outing on a Sunday afternoon. But times change and the horses are long gone. It was time to get this deal done.”
Races were last featured at Sandown in 2008, when a brief harness racing season was run. Although the track was a hub of activity during the 1980’s, the numbers had declined to less than a handful of events by 2004.
The proposal, which received unanimous approval by the district’s committee of the whole, is slated for a council vote on October 7. Finall said that, prior to that meeting, a number of public meetings will be held to ensure that the public fully understands the plan.