Public, council debate Sandown land proposal

Residents at the meeting said they want to see a business plan, and don’t want to subsidize farming on the former North Saanich horse race track.

“Cautiously optimistic” was the heavy favourite as residents laid their wagers in the first public meeting with North Saanich council to discuss the Sandown proposal.

Residents at the meeting said they want to see a business plan, and don’t want to subsidize farming on the former Sandown horse race track.

The land includes 95 acres in eight parcels. The proposal would see that consolidated into two titles; one would “cluster” commercial uses into 12 acres off McDonald Park Road and the other would be 85 acres with the District of North Saanich as the owner. The plan calls for removal of the 12 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve, swapping it with just over 12 acres of remediated municipal land and rezoning it to commercial. The remaining 83 acres would remain in the ALR, and be restricted to agricultural uses through a covenant.

“I see benefits for many people in the community … but it is a decision for the community,” said mayor Alice Finall.

North Saanich created the proposal in response to queries from the property owners about what North Saanich might like to see done with the land. The property owners made the application based on that proposal.

“I don’t think North Saanich should be in the land development business,” resident and farmer Robin Herlinveaux told council.

“We’re not in the development business,” Finall responded.

The lack of business model for future use of the 83 acres that would in effect be taxpayer-owned reared its head again and again during the hour-and-a-half meeting that drew about 100 people to Parkland secondary school.

Business plan concerns included how the district would pay for demolition of buildings on the site, drainage issues many perceive on the property, among other landlord issues; and that taxpayers would wind up subsidizing farmers on the land.

“I agree farmers should not be subsidized by the taxpayers,” said councillor Ruby Commandeur who owns a blueberry farm.

Decisions on uses would come later, as a secondary process, explained Rob Buchan, chief administrative officer for North Saanich. The site would also require an environmental assessment, including the buildings.

Attainable housing also made an appearance during the discussion, with one resident asking why that wasn’t dealt with in this proposal.

“I understand that’s an issue, and it’s an issue this council continues to deal with,” Finall said. “With this particular land it may not be an option.”

“I’m shocked people aren’t going, ‘this is fantastic’,” said Sylvia Miller, the RV dealer across from the proposed commercial area, whose comments earned applause. She also noted that concerns over traffic would be moot.

“For many years there were thousands of cars coming to that track,” agreed Finall.

Under the proposal, the district would enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Agricultural Land Comission and make a commitment to fund agricultural improvement initiatives using 50 per cent of the tax revenue for five years minimum, starting no later than 2013.

“We need more farmers growing more food,” added Dave Friend, who works in organics education. “There are issues … it does need to get looked at professionally, and I get the sense you’re doing that.”

The proposal would have a long haul starting with an application to the Agricultural Land Commission to swap land. The proposal would also have to go to the CRD because it would require a change in the Regional Context Statement.

“When you talk of wealth and value, this is a tremendous deal,” said councillor Dunstan Browne, of the land that would become district-owned. “The devil of course is going to be in the details.”

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Council outlined the process in 10 steps:

• public consultation and discussion;

• environmental review;

• agency consultation;

• council considers application for rezoning/OCP and ALR;

• bylaws referred to CRD, Ministry of Transportation, Sidney, First Nations, school district and ALC;

• public hearing;

• CRD considers/approves proposed change to OCP;

• ALC considers/approves inclusion and exclusion requests;

• agreements completed and bylaws adopted;

• community process to discuss options for the 83 acres.

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