Neighbours fear losing field to a community garden
The idea of a community garden on a parcel of land behind Saanich Commonwealth Place doesn't sit well for some area residents.
It's not the garden they take issue with, it's the idea that a field used regularly by hundreds of people for outdoor sports and fitness activities will be dug up and fenced for used by a relatively small number of gardeners.
"I'm a gardener, I encourage community gardens, but they need to be in the right place," said Dave Marecek, who lives on Caselton Place. "This is our our green space, it's where we meet as neighbours, it's our community field because (designated parkland) wasn't put in our area. Now they're going to take it away and we'll have nothing."
In November, Saanich announced it will create two new community allotment gardens in the municipality – one behind Commonwealth Place and one along the Gorge Waterway. Marecek said his biggest frustration is the announcement came without consultation and that he and his neighbours will lose the green space.
Property developers gave the land, referred to as the SCP Expansion Area in planning reports, to the municipality in 2002 as part of the deal to build Caselton Place. "The developers have also agreed to give 1.6 hectares of property behind Saanich Commonwealth Place to Saanich for parkland," says a News article from August 2002.
"The person who developed Caselton Place and donated it to Saanich had a commitment from Saanich it would always be greenspace," Marecek claimed.
But that's not how Mayor Frank Leonard remembers it. "(The land) was acquired for surplus parking," he said. "That was the original motivation to get it."
Planning reports for Caselton Place from the District of Saanich appear to corroborate Leonard's memory.
"The SCP Expansion Area will provide surface parking for future floor space expansion to SCP, stormwater management, open space for passive and unrestricted recreation," reads a rezoning application dated July 10, 2002. There's also an attached map that details how much of the land was to be used for a 150-car parking lot.
Doug Henderson, director of parks and recreation, said the differing understanding of under what pretenses that land was given stems from the donated property being larger than just the field.
"When you cut it in half, the north portion is the hilly treed area. That was identified for green space and unstructured activities. It's the southern half that was identified for potential parking expansion or facility expansion. It's that portion that is being looking at to use a part of for a community garden," Henderson said.
Leonard is aware of the current opposition to building an allotment garden behind Commonwealth Place, and says those opposed will have a chance to voice their concerns before council.
He points to a proposal from the early or mid-2000s that would've put a community garden in Houlihan Park in Gordon Head. Neighbours vehemently opposed the plan, and council rejected it.
"I've seen council turn down community gardens before. It's still a public process, so the outcome's not known," the mayor said.
Marecek says he feels as if Saanich isn't "taking into account the needs of the citizens. They're not taking into account the needs of the community."
"They're going to take away a space that's used by 150 people a week for 13 gardeners? I'm so baffled why Saanich would have this single-mindedness at no matter what cost to the community," Marecek said. "When people use (the land) for outdoor activities, that's a great thing in today's era."
To provide input on the proposed community garden behind Commonwealth Place, visit saanich.ca/scpgardens. The survey will be available until Friday (Feb. 22).