Much like horse racing at Sandown, a proposal for a land swap to get it back into farm production has gone lame.
Councillors Ted Daly, Craig Mearns, Conny McBride and Dunstan Browne voted opposed to the memorandum critical to the proposal.
It looked promising last week when North Saanich council agreed, during a committee meeting, to have staff draft a memorandum of understanding for the Agricultural Land Commission.
The MOU was part of conditions for allowing the land swap portion of the Sandown proposal to exchange 12 acres of district land for 12 acres of ALR land near McDonald Park Road. The proposal was to have the district gain ownership of 83 of the 95 acres of the former horse race track, and the other 12 rezoned commercial for the present owner.
During the April 2 council meeting, the motion failed. Mayor Alice Finall and councillors Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock voted in favour, while councillors Ted Daly, Craig Mearns, Conny McBride and Dunstan Browne voted opposed. Follow up motions including to initiate community discussion on options for the 83 acre parcel, amending the zoning to allow for a public market, increase the floorspace in the commercial zone, and refer back to the ALC were tabled.
Finall feels that the decision leaves the proposal with no alternatives.
“I’m terribly disappointed and I’m sad for the community,” Finall said on Tuesday. “It’s not a decision that I see as in the interest of the community – at all.”
Browne renewed a suggestion he made earlier in the meeting – in a motion that the district create a negotiation team of Finall, Mearns and himself to negotiate with the property owner and meet with the ALC to discuss terms of the approval of the land swap.
“I see no point in further negotiation. I think this matter has been negotiated, it’s been negotiated to the advantage of the district,” Finall said. “Secondly, if council themselves act as a negotiating committee I see them putting themselves in a conflict position, and that is a problem for me.”
Browne, while not in agreement, chose to withdraw the motion, “for now”.
During discussion of the motion that was agreed to by the majority of council last week, councillors reiterated concerns voiced earlier in the discussion of the proposal that came out about a year ago.
“I support the acquisition of Sandown, as long as there is no cost to the taxpayers. I don’t believe the motions that I opposed last week, and that I will vote against tonight, achieve that goal,” said Daly. “I can easily be persuaded to retain the property and lease it as long as the costs imposed by the ALC conditions are not paid by our taxpayers.
“I believe the district can facilitate the process and everyone attain the goal of 86 acres in perpetuity for farming and I believe the district has already stepped up to the plate.”
Browne said he’s in favour of getting the land, but not the proposal as is.
“Last week … I said there were some prerequisites for me. Since then I have spoken to a number of residents and there is a certain amount of unhappiness out there,” Browne said. “The people who don’t want this to happen say so once and then they don’t come again. So I have been back, I have spoken to them, there is an unhappiness that we’re being imposed upon by the ALC.”
“I don’t think the ALC has the right to come here and tell us what to do with our property,” he added. “Perhaps it is time to say this proposal is not what we want, and to negotiate what we want. … It may well end up as a major problem economically for this municipality and I’m not going to be part of that.”
Stock was surprised at the negative comments after last week’s meeting.
“I don’t understand why we keep going around in circles,” an emotional Stock said. “It must be frustrating for everyone. It is for me.”
McMurphy said by her count about 90 per cent of those who have responded to the district about the proposal are in favour.
“I think we … have a responsibility to listen,” she said citing letters, notes, and public meetings. People want the land not to be sold or subdivided. “I just hope that the people of North Saanich will continue to make their wishes known.”
Stock too saw the MOU denial as a killing blow for the proposal.
“I don’t see how we can go back now,” she said. “I think we have to fish or cut bait.”