North Saanich councillors have known for a while the owner of the Sandown Racetrack property and their development consultants were seeking potential investors in their proposed commercial property.
Ted Daly says he had known about the plans — that essentially will lead to the resumption of negotiations with the municipality — prior to another developer letting the cat out the bag at a council meeting earlier this month. Daly said that since the proposal hadn’t formally come back to council or staff after it was shelved last year, he had planned to wait until the owners came back to talk.
When news of a real estate listing for the proposed commercial site got out, however, Daly said he knew the time had come to discuss the future of the former horse harness racing track.
Daly was part of the majority of council who, in April of 2012, rejected owner William Randall’s proposal to split his 95-acre property into a 12 acre commercial site and 83 acre agricultural area owned by the municipality. He said he likes the concept but until negotiations resume, there are a few sticking points that preclude any change of heart.
“Overall, the idea is good,” Daly said, “but I still don’t like the plan to use 50 per cent of the taxes from the commercial land for land reclamation.”
Daly is also opposed to the plan as it stood last year because of the potential costs to taxpayers to demolish old buildings, clean up the land and add new topsoil to the site.
“I don’t want this to be the same thing, with the same costs,” he said of the revival of the Sandown plans.
Those costs, he said, need to be renegotiated if there’s any hope of this project happening. Daly said he’s hopeful in the light of the landowner stating they’re willing to pay more for land remediation.
As yet, however, formal talks between North Saanich and the Randall family have not resumed.
Bernadette Greene, who was part of the ad hoc group Friends of Sandown Community Farm, says she has high hopes that the deal to create new agricultural land in the district will pan out.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” she said. “This has the potential of being really good for the community.”
Her informal group is pushing the idea of having a community farm somewhere on the 83 acres in this proposal. It could include a place where young farmers could cut their teeth on affordable lease land, a community farm market and other agricultural uses that benefit the Peninsula. A public meeting held by the group attracted more than 400 people, she said, interested in many of these areas.
Whether any of this happens, she continued, will require more talks with the owners, the district, the Agricultural Land Commission and The Farmland Trust, which had offered to operate the farmland for the municipality.
As for the commercial area, Greene said its proximity to the agricultural land should see it offering complimentary design and service.
“Ideally, it would be supportive of agriculture, with perhaps a butcher, baker, cheese-maker or other related businesses.”
Most importantly, she said, the retail zone should adhere to North Saanich’s form and character.
“I am excited about it and it should go to the community to see what people want. There are still questions out there about how it’s all going to happen.”
Geoff Orr, president of the North Saanich Residents Association, said this is a complex proposal and had plenty of obstacles in its last go-round with the municipality.
“We didn’t have a solid position, for or against it,” Orr said of his association’s stance last year.
He noted they wanted to get as much information as they could, for themselves and residents — indicating that will again be the case when the proponents bring the plan back to the public.
“In general, it’s good to see the original concept largely intact,” Orr said.
He added there should be a shift in the negotiations over who will pick up the costs for land clean-up.
“There’s a shift of some of the costs to the proponent, so this means the issue is not a slam dunk. There are still negotiations left to take place.”
The first step, however, will be for the Randall family and their development representatives, Omicron, to open the dialogue with council and the municipality.
“I hope to see this back before council sooner rather than later,” Daly said.
He added there might be wiggle room in the negotiations with the land owner, but some areas — for him — are black and white.
For instance, Daly said he doesn’t want the district to get into the business of farming. As well, he noted that costs to the taxpayers could be the main sticking point.
“I don’t want to see negative impacts on the district.”
Omicron and the Randall family have been seeking retail interest in the plan, touting the site at shopping centre conferences and through their real estate listing of the property. As they test the waters, they have told the News Review they plan to bring the plans back to council. No date for that has yet been set.