Sandown Property - Public Engagement Meeting

If the North Saanich community chooses to embrace the idea of the current Sandown application and proposal, we stand to make a significant contribution to the Region with the acquisition of the Sandown property. Our first public Town Hall meeting saw about 100 people attend to hear about the latest application and proposal for the property. Moderated by Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and Mayor Alice Finall, the meeting included Council members who listened with the public to a presentation that laid out the general proposal. That proposal would see about 83 acres preserved for agricultural use and gifted to the North Saanich community by the current owners, a Vancouver-based family. This is the first proposal of its kind in North Saanich history and if it succeeds, could be a model to boost regional food security and enhance local farming.

Of course there were the usual nay-sayers at the meeting but, in general, what I heard was an audience majority who seemed to support the concept (some even congratulated us on our innovation), provided a clear and detailed business plan is developed that addresses issues of cost to taxpayers of environmentally remediating the property, servicing the commercial aspects of the proposal (12 acres on McDonald Park Rd.), dealing with drainage and water and assessing long term benefits of additional tax revenue to the Municipality. My notes from audience questions include the following:

• Should the current owner be given commercial zoning?
• What will be the cost of fire and other services to the property?
• How will you define "farming use?"
• What are the staff costs to the District of working on this proposal?
• Should the municipality be engaged in "land development?"
• What are the costs of cleaning up the property and demolishing existing buildings?
• What happens if the cost of maintaining the property exceeds commercial tax revenue?
• Who would own the land? (12 acres would be owned by current owner and District of North Saanich would own 83 acres of ALR)
• What is the business plan for this proposal?
• What about affordable housing on the site? (Agricultural Land Commission regulations prohibit housing developments on ALR)
• Will there be a tax increase for North Saanich residents?
• Will there be further public consultation? (Absolutely)
• What are the revenue, terms and length of two existing leases on Sandown property? (Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and a cell tower)
• Should this go to referendum in the next Municipal general election?

In the end, I believe North Saanich and the current owner of the property could be on the brink of seizing a precedent-setting opportunity to establish a public legacy that could make a positive and ever-lasting difference to agricultural land use locally, across the Saanich Peninsula and in the Region. Once the Municipality has completed its due diligence, I just hope that the majority of North Saanich residents agrees.

My thanks to everyone who took the time to attend and participate in the meeting.