Metchosin Mayor John Ranns (Black Press Media file photo)

Charity’s plan to flip tax-exempt greenspace to development angers Metchosin mayor

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria tight-lipped on land plans

The spectre of a subdivision springing up on a large chunk of the Boys and Girls Club’s property in Metchosin has raised the ire of mayor and residents.

“Frankly, I’m quite pissed off,” said Metchosin Mayor John Ranns. “We have been giving them tax-exempt status for the past 17 years, and our understanding has always been that the property would remain in its entirety. I question their ability to fulfill their mandate without that wooded portion of the property. We’ll be looking at the tax-exempt status through a completely different lens when it comes before council.”

The 98-acre property off of Metchosin Road was loaned to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria (BGCV) by the provincial government to use as a camp and for outdoor programs in 1984. BGCV exercised its right of first refusal and purchased the property from the province for $1.6 million in 2004. The mortgage was paid off in 2011 through a variety of fundraising initiatives and donations.

Ranns said under Metchosin’s land-use bylaw, the 40-acre portion in question is a legal subdivision and does not require rezoning or provisions for amenities.

Metchosin has a contractor that handles these matters, and subdivisions like this go straight to the approving officer, Ranns explained. “Council is not allowed to influence the approving officer.”

Metchosin resident Bev Bacon, who lives near the property, said she contacted the BCGV and the organization’s head office for more information on what their plans are for the property, and received a response on Jan. 5 from Carrie Wagner-Miller, regional director for the western region of Boys and Girls Club Canada.

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“We have reached out to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Victoria and are aware that they working with Devoncore, a commercial real estate firm,” Wagner-Miller said in an email. “At this time, the club has been advised to have all communication regarding the land go through Griffin Lewis from Devoncore, whom I have copied on this email.”

Lewis said in an email to Bacon that “The foundation and B&GC board and senior management have decided (based upon advice from me) that they will have no comment or discussion about their property until the subdivision application and process is complete. As I’m sure you can appreciate, it’s best to wait until all the variables and requirements from the district are understood before they can speak to what their plans are.”

Dalyce Dixon, executive director for BGCV, declined to provide comment to the Gazette and referred all inquiries to Lewis. Lewis emailed the same response to the Gazette as the one sent to Bacon.

Bacon decried the lack of information and transparency, and questions why a real estate company is handling communication for a non-profit.

“I don’t think a real estate broker is the best person to do damage control on the Boys and Girls Club brand,” she said.

“As I recall, the Boys and Girls Club got the land for a favourable price because they were cash poor and trying to provide a public service to introduce children to lush forests and environmental engagement.”

The organization’s financial statement for 2020 doesn’t appear to show any financial difficulties, Bacon noted. “If they can’t operate without selling environmentally sensitive land, they should find alternate funding. The land should be kept as it is for its environmental values. A non-profit generating a profit from a real estate sale is not right, not fair, not environmentally sound and looks really really bad. The land should be kept intact for its environmental values. In the absence of an explanation or plan from the organization, how can the public judge whether or not they have been bilked?”

Jay Shukin, president of the Association for the Rural Protection of Metchosin (APRM), said the land has two great attributes.

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“It’s a wonderful natural area with mature forests, Garry oak meadows and a pond that’s habitat for Western Painted Turtles,” Shukin said. “Second, it serves as a resource for youth in the broader community. Any funds generated by the subdivision or sale of the property will be a short-term solution that will create a significant long-term gap in regional youth programming options. It’s a rare and perhaps irreplaceable asset for youth programs based on outdoor recreation and nature immersion.”

Shukin also noted that the BGCV obtained the land from the provincial government in 2004 “under very favourable terms,” and the organization has received more than $300,000 in tax exemptions in the past 10 years. “That has led to the perception by local residents that the land would be preserved for public benefit, specifically outdoor youth recreation and education programs.

“We would like the Boys and Girls Club to put a pause on their subdivision plans and have them sit down with the APRM and other community organizations to help us better understand the club’s intentions with the land. We want to discuss how their plans fit into their mission of serving youth in Greater Victoria.”

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rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com

District of Metchosin

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