All trails on University of Victoria property around the former Dunsmuir Lodge in North Saanich will be closed if the university’s current deal falls through.
The hammer came down on the issue of public access to the private property Monday night, as UVic outlined its proposed deal to sell 100 acres of land it has held in the District since 1985. Gayle Gorill, UVic’s vice-president of finance and operations told municipal councillors if the deal to sell 25 acres to Homewood Health and 75 acres to the Pauquachin First Nation does not proceed, the university will close all of the trails to help position the land for sale.
As it stands, a series of trails will be closed, to be replaced by UVic with an east-west linear route stretching between Cresswell Road and the access road to the North Saanich Rod and Gun Club’s shooting range. Once built, it would be maintained by the municipality.
It’s the loss of these trails that has sparked some area residents, as well as parents and teachers from Kelset Elementary School, to protest the deal — and the rezoning sought from the District of North Saanich to make the deal happen.
A group called Friends of the Loop Trail, as well as Kelset Parent Advisory Council members say losing the trails after 30 years would mean lost outdoors and fitness opportunities.
UVic has a deal pending that would see the former Dunsmuir Lodge property sold to Ontario-based Homewood Health. The company is looking to use the former lodge as an addictions and mental health treatment centre — the site’s original use after it was built in 1974.
Most of the land would be sold to the Pauquachin First Nation. This proposed sale would see the land subdivided into two parcels. It’s this rezoning that allows the District a role in the outcome of the sale. No rezoning and it could fall through.
Speaking to council Monday night, Chief Rebecca Harris said the land has been spiritually and culturally important to the WSANEC nation for hundreds of years. It includes LEU’WEL’NEW Mountain, which plays a main role in WSANEC cultural practices.
“Having this land will help address our social issues,” she explained.
The Pauquachin are working with Homewood Health on finding employment opportunities for area indigenous people in the proposed treatment centre. Should the current deal fall through, Harris said the Pauquachin would still look into buying the 100 acres outright.
Speaking during council’s public participation period, trail users claimed the area gets a lot of use by walkers and doing so for 30 years should count for something.
Resident David Thompson said he grew up walking those trails and that it is one of the reasons he lives in North Saanich today.
He said his family has a “deep and rich cultural connection” to those trails.
Other speakers, including Stella Waterman of Friends of the Loop Trail, complained about a lack of public consultation on the deal and expressed uncertainty over whether the land being bought by the Pauquachin will remain in its natural state.
Dave Smith, a senior planner with McElhanney Consulting Group acting on behalf of UVic, said there have been five specific consultations with people in North Saanich — the most recent an Oct. 20 open house that saw an estimated 150 people.
UVic is hoping the rezoning matter is taken by the District to a public hearing in early December (Dec. 5). This is a required step in the municipal process, allowing the public to have a say and either convince council one way or the other.
Council agreed unanimously to send the proposed rezoning to public hearing, yet a specific date was not announced Monday.
Council discussed trail use and a proposed ‘no-development’ covenant on the Pauquachin portion of the land. They also talked about their decision-making process and how the District has been only a bit player in this land deal.
Comparing herself to King Solomon, Coun. Celia Stock called this decision “very biblical” in its difficulty.
“We have been systematically kept in the dark,” she said of the land deal, noting the District has tried to be a part of the process with UVic but did not get anywhere.
“I’ve been put into an extremely difficult position,” Stock continued, noting she’s still undecided on the rezoning. “Our residents feel they’ve been left out and were blindsided.”
“We feel the angst the community has,” added Coun. Geoff Orr.
He said the issue comes down to trust — that the deal will come out the way it’s being presented. Orr added the Pauquachin have said they do not intend on developing the site or transferring the land into their reserve.
“I take that as truthful,” he said, “and I have no reason to question that.”
Mayor Alice Finall said she feels a lack of communication by the university led to the current conflict. She claimed there was no chance for the public to make its concerns known and that the District had “no part to play” in what might happen to the property.
She added, however, there are plenty of desirable aspects of the proposal and the rezoning process should proceed to a public hearing.
Pauquachin promise no development
North Saanich residents living around the Dunsmuir Lodge property don’t want to see development on the wooded area that could be sold to the Pauquachin First Nation. That feeling is echoed by the District, which will seek a legal opinion on the strength of common law covenants to maintain that.
Chief Rebecca Harris has said they would not roll the land into their reserve, but keep it as fee simple land — and not develop it. In so doing, she said they are willing to have a covenant put in place.
“A no-development covenant to have on a large piece of land in your back yard is nice to have,” added Peter Kuran, President and CEO of UVIC Properties.
North Saanich councillors are still concerned a covenant (a document outlining restrictions on land use) of any kind could be overruled by the federal government, should the land be made part of the reserve. So, they voted Monday to get a legal opinion on the power of common law covenants to survive over the long term — especially as they relate to aboriginal law — and then share the information with the public.
“We need as clear background and legal interpretation as possible,” said Mayor Alice Finall.
Council also unanimously voted to have District staff look into not only a common law covenant, but adding a Section 219 covenant as well. The latter is a provincial document under the Land Title Act. There is concern that this type of covenant would be less likely to withstand a land transfer to the Federal Indian Lands Registry.