North Saanich moves toward its gift horse

Acquiring agriculture from Sandown

A land swap plan in North Saanich will go to the ALC in search of acquiring Sandown Park.

Council gave first and second reading to the bylaws required to acquire the agricultural asset along Glamorgan Road.

“It would appear that the value of the asset proposed to be received by the municipality is approximately $6,000,000,” the staff report said. “There will be an increase in property taxes of approximately $348,615 annually once the property is developed. On the cost side there may be costs in the order of $455,000 and possibly more (or less) depending on future decisions.”

Council ratified the readings after a short discussion during its Sept. 12 committee meeting.

The proposal would see the 95 acre former horse raceway consolidated into two titles; one of 12 acres zoned commercial use off McDonald Park Road and the other  85 acres to be owned by the District of North Saanich. The plan calls for removal of the 12 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve, swapping with just over 12 acres of remediated municipal land and rezoning to commercial. The remaining 83 acres would stay in the ALR, and be restricted to agricultural uses.

Councillor Ruby Commandeur noted first and second reading doesn’t mean fait accompli for the proposal.

“There’s still lots of public discussion but there’s also some timeline issues. The Agricultural Land (Commission) does meet infrequently, if we don’t move this forward at this time then we won’t be moving it forward until next year,” she said. “We have such an incredible opportunity, a community opportunity, that I think leaving something on the table for six months and not moving it forward where we could have all the different partners come together and discuss it would be negligent on our part.”

Councillor Cairine Green agreed on the timeline, noting the report was deferred two weeks previously to give everyone a chance to study it and ask questions of staff.

“There’s only one meeting left this year of the Agricultural Land Commission and that’s in October. There are no meetings of the commission planned until next April,” Green said. “If we don’t begin the process then our good faith partnership and agreement with the owners of the property could in fact, in my opinion, be jeopardized. We may lose this opportunity if we don’t start the process now.”

Mayor Alice Finall said she’s gotten good feedback, positive feedback, from the community and community bodies. “[It’s] overwhelmingly positive in terms of this being an amazing opportunity for this community to secure an asset that is very valuable and not only valuable for the present but for the future,” she said. “Not only of this community but of the region as a whole.”

She noted that the hurdles include ALC approval, followed by CRD approval.

“Without that agreement the project doesn’t go,” she said.

That would be followed by seeking CRD approval to change the Regional Context Statement to remove the 12 acres from rural protection, and adding it to the North Saanich Servicing Area.

“Those (applications) require timing as has been stated,” Finall said. “I am most concerned about moving this forward. It’s so important to the community. It’s an opportunity that is almost unheard of.”

“It’s a gift horse, there’s no question about that,” agreed councillor Craig Mearns. “I just want to make sure that we’re not in this process … committing to any specific uses for this land. Because that, I think, is something that could really take years for the public to decide what they want to do on that land.”  He added that it could be years before councils of the day are making decisions on how that land will be used, and wouldn’t want to tie their hands with covenants.

Councillor Dunstan Browne too was pleased with the concept of moving forward, with the exception of what he saw as a promise to the ALC.

One of the terms of the proposal would be to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the ALC making a policy commitment to fund agricultural improvement initiatives using half of the incremental increase in tax revenue for five years minimum. North Saanich staff estimate that the 12 rezoned acres could produce an increase in municipal taxes of up to $110,000 which would increase once the land is developed, to approximately $350,000 annually.

“I don’t think that our application to the ALC should go forward with any memorandum of understanding at all,” Browne said. “If the local authority accepts the application, they will go with us. Here is a good application where we’re taking on 83 acres, we’re allowing them to develop 12 acres. We’re putting in 12 acres so there’s no loss of land. I think that’s what we do when we go to the ALC. I would not like to see this memo of understanding be part of our application.”

“We put together this proposal in a way of increasing the chances of success, because we probably only have one shot at this,” said CAO Rob Buchan. “The proposal … it’s an agreement, it’s not a contract, but a policy commitment.”

An environmental review and traffic impact report were also on the agenda for council to peruse.

Learn more about the Sandown plan, its business case and both staff reports during a second community town hall meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 at municipal hall, 1620 Mills Rd. The staff report is available online at www.northsaanich.ca.

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Did you know?

n One considered source of sewer servicing was Sidney, but the town denied the North Saanich request. The site is currently serviced with a water main along the frontage of McDonald Park Road. Staff said in its recent report that the line is sufficient to service the proposed commercial development. The sanitary sewer would be extended up McDonald Park Road from Mills Road at the landowners owners’ cost (with an opportunity for other industrial properties in the area to cost share).