Public consultation on the future agricultural use of most of the former Sandown race track land in North Saanich will begin this summer.
District council this month approved a $25,000 proposal by the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR) to help the municipality with the public consultation process.
Their work would contribute significantly to a development plan for the Sandown lands. CRFAIR, a not-for-profit organization, has already worked with North Saanich in other areas, including taking over the annual Flavour Trail farm tours.
Linda Geggie, the project lead and CRFAIR co-ordinator, says their work will continue out of input received during their involvement with the District’s agricultural economic development strategy.
“It’s not like we’ll be starting from nowhere,” she said, noting that agricultural strategy work heard from many people on what should be done with Sandown.
The District negotiated a deal over five years with the Randall Family, owners of the former horse racing track, to split up the nearly 100-acre property. While the Randalls would retain 12 acres to turn into a commercial area, they agreed to gift 84 to the municipality. North Saanich approved the deal in late 2014.
CRFAIR is proposing to collect public input on future use of the land at various functions this summer. Geggie said they would attend North Saanich Jubilee and Flavour Trail events, followed by more specific meetings set up with the community, farmers and different organizations. She added they are currently meeting with District staff to formalize that process.
The land being transferred to the District is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, making its uses limited. While farming of some kind is heavily favoured, Geggie said they want to hear people’s ‘blue sky’ ideas — on anything from recreational use to small plot farming and education.
“Because it is agricultural land, that sets out a particular use for the land and food production is an acceptable use. Complimentary uses include walking trails but we will explore other things as well.”
Municipal land used for farming is not new in the region, Geggie said. Haliburton Farm and Panama Flats in Saanich are examples that North Saanich can learn from.
Geggie noted the consultation plan could take as long as a year, with a final proposal delivered to council in the fall of 2016.
“Nothing happens really quickly,” said Mayor Alice Finall, responding to questions about Sandown at a recent meeting at Glen Meadows Golf Club, “but it does happen.”
Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan said at the same meeting that the District will not get into farm operation directly at Sandown or anywhere else. He added they will work with CRFAIR to create a vision of what to do with that land.
Buchan noted the consultation process will watch what happens at the property closely.
The owners have pledged to remediate the site, including removing some or all of the track-related structures. He added the Randalls continue to seek tenants for their commercial property — tentatively called Sandown Commons, noting there may not be significant work done until the commercial site is populated.
Details of the Sandown public consultation process are expected to be on the District’s website (northsaanich.ca) soon.