A divided and often “warring” council in North Saanich found a little unity Monday night.
Members of the Farmlands Trust Society made a presentation at the committee of the whole meeting, outlining their plan to manage the land at the former Sandown race track. The municipality hopes to acquire 83 acres of the land in a deal with land owner Bill Randall.
“Tonight was the first time in my ancient age when I look around and I’m quite reassured because we’re not at war with anybody,” North Saanich resident David Olsen said at the meeting.
Ed Johnson, chair of Farmlands Trust, said the group has been “working diligently” since publicly stating their intent to manage the land for agricultural purposes last month. He referred to comments made by some councillors – Ted Daly, Craig Mearns, Dunstan Browne and Conny McBride – who were concerned work required on the land would be felt by taxpayers.
“[We’re] offering tonight to relieve North Saanich of that so-called burden, subject to a few conditions to be negotiated to ensure the success of this project, we will assume all costs to bring this property into the condition required by the Agricultural Land Commission,” Johnson said.
The society hopes to work with other community groups to take on costs, which the district estimated at $693,000.
Farmlands Trust treasurer Glenn Davidson said if the society manages the property, it might require small C commercial on site, such as a market. It could be built using materials from the derelict grandstand.
“This is a business and it needs to be treated as one,” he said.
“After all these [costs] have been dealt with and paid for [the Trust] would have earned the property. I guess what I’m trying to say here is let us help you to achieve that. We are open to any thoughts and suggestions, but we are definitely going to need some help with the zoning issues.”
While Daly suggested the Trust buy the property, Mearns and Mayor Alice Finall disagreed.
“I think we should be leasing it to you at a very low rate,” Mearns told Davidson.
Coun. Elsie McMurphy said the community should be consulted before any decisions are made on a partnership with the Farmlands Trust, or any uses for the property are chosen.
The district is being asked to sign a memorandum of understanding with the ALC before the land deal moves ahead – a move that has been opposed by four of the seven members of council.
The Farmlands plan
Farmlands Trust wants to see five elements on the Sandown property:
• farming – about 30 plots of one to three acres, possible greenhouses
• a farm market – local produce
• a public market – locally made products
• community gardens – plots of five to eight acres
• salmon enhancement – water catchment, rather than drainage, to establish a salmon habitat