Sandown retail and land swap plans revived in North Saanich

Former racetrack land touted as potential site of shopping centre.

The Sandown Ractrack grandstand has sat empty for six years. The owner wants to give 83 acres to the District of North Saanich and turn 12 acres into retail space.

Retail plans for 12 acres of the Sandown racetrack property in North Saanich are being revived after almost a year of inactivity.

Owner of the property, William Randall and development company Omicron say they are going to bring their proposed land deal back to the District of North Saanich, 10 months after councillors rejected, in April 2012, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the municipality, the owner and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). That majority vote essentially killed the matter, as council decided not to proceed over costs to taxpayers and alleged ALC interference in the district’s business.

Peter Laughlin, Omicron’s director for Vancouver Island, says they want to bring the same deal back to council, after negotiating with district staff some of the sticking points of the MOU.

“We are just starting to talk with the district,” he said. “It’s the same proposal as last year. No housing, just retail.”

In conjunction, he said they are testing the waters, seeking interest in the shopping mall and retail community in such a project. That’s the root of a property listing being circulated by concerned North Saanich residents this week, which states the property “will be converted to a shopping centre, located in the Sidney area of Victoria. Up to 80,000 sf of commercial retail, with potential for residential.” The listing is through Cushman & Wakefield Ltd.

Laughlin said they’ve also taken the idea to Vancouver and Toronto conventions of the International Council of Shopping Centres. The goal is to see if there will be any takers, should the land questions be worked out with the municipality. He said Omicron and the Randall family are committed to taking this plan through the process.

“At some point you have to make a determination if the project is able to go forward, if it’s the right project.”

On May 25, 2011 the District of North Saanich received an application from the owners of the Sandown Racetrack — an application requested by the district itself — to rezone 12 acres of the 95 acre site for a range of commercial uses. The proposed deal would give 83 acres of the property to the municipality for agricultural purposes. The remaining 12 acres would be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for commercial development, while the district would put up 12 acres of their own land to ensure no overall loss of agricultural property.

The MOU included a list of the ALC’s requirements for a 12-acre land swap within the ALR of property near McDonald Park Road for municipal property. Under the proposal, the 12 acres removed from the land reserve would be rezoned commercial.

Randall, whose family owns the former harness racing track on Glamorgan Road which has been vacant for six years, said no potential tenants have come forward so far and does not expect any deals to be signed, as there’s no certainty that the property will be approved for such use.

“Whether this occurs, that’s a good question,” Randall said.

Currently, the property is within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), which does not allow retail use. As a result, Randall said, no company is willing to become a tenant with the uncertain land question not yet resolved.

When the proposal was stalled last year, plans by The Farmlands Trust to manage the agricultural land for the district, also fell by the wayside. Randall at the time said he was moving on, planning to list the property and there had been no other proposals.

The lease listing making the rounds this week has some people wondering what’s happening with Sandown.

District Planner Mark Brodrick said this week that the property listing came as a complete surprise, adding there is no active file with the municipality on plans for Sandown.

Randall, however, said district staff are aware of their proposal. He noted that it has not yet been before “full council” for their review.

The plan right now, Randall said, is the same as the initial proposal. He said the listing is a way of determining if there’s any retail interest, but admitted he thinks nothing will proceed until all of the land questions are worked out.

“No, there’s no one that has come forward,” he said. “It’s listed for lease, so if we do get a tenant, it may happen.”

But it may not, either. Randall said he could offer no specifics on his plans because the land issues are not yet resolved.

“Right now, we’re in more than just a holding pattern but we’re not out on the highway yet. We’re looking at our options.”

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