Mike Forster, Candace Ross, Gary Ng, and Gord Gummer are among residents living near North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre opposed to plans by the municipality that could end up with a library near their homes. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

North Saanich pursues ALR exclusion for new library, despite large opposition

Opposed residents shift lobby to ALC after vote sets exclusion table for 16 acres near rec centre

A group of North Saanich residents is calling on the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to reject an application to exclude land on which a new library could eventually stand.

On Monday (July 14) council voted 6-1, with Coun. Brett Smyth opposed, to forward an application to the ALC to exclude almost 16 acres of the Panorama Recreation Centre lot from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Smyth was also the lone voice of opposition as the councillors approved necessary amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP).

The application now goes before the ALC for review. In 2019, the commission rejected the municipality’s application for non-farm use on the site. But in that ruling, the commission also signalled willingness to consider an exclusion application that received almost unanimous support around the council table Monday, but considerable opposition from the public, including the four residents living near the lot.

Gary Ng told the Peninsula News Review that efforts are already underway to lobby the ALC.

“Follow your mandate,” he said, when asked what the message from residents to the ALC would be.

“You already denied them [North Saanich] once, why would you open up the idea of exclusion. That is contradictory. There is no land to give back [into the ALR] and there is clear opposition from residents.”

RELATED: Public submissions show large opposition to library plans in North Saanich

RELATED: North Saanich residents to comment on library plans

While North Saanich has a long history of pursuing a library within its own municipal borders, current plans appear less definitive, a fact acknowledged by several councillors during Monday’s discussion, including Coun. Murray Weisenberger, who placed the odds of library ever appearing on the site at somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent in suggesting that the most likely use of the lot would of some recreational nature. This said, if one were to build a library in North Saanich, the Panorama Recreation Centre site “would be the most logical place to do it” given its status as a local destination, said Weisenberger.

Speaking in favour of the application, Coun. Heather Gartshore said the exclusion, would give the municipality flexibility, a point echoed by Coun. Jack McClintock. “I think this is an opportunity, and that opportunity includes whatever this council, whatever the District, and whatever the people of the District want to do on that piece of land.”

Smyth argued that the site is maxed out and questions the absence of plans for the property, a source of frustration among residents.

While Smyth acknowledged comments from Coun. Celia Stock that while land retains no agricultural utility, it serves as a green space buffer between the centre and nearby residents. Its presence would also preserve the nearby Eric Sherwood trail as a recreational space, he added. “As far as I can tell, this entire property has fulfilled its mandate as is,” he said. “I know we struggle to find locations to add to our bank of recreational facilities, but I just don’t think this is the right place.”

Resident Gord Gummer, questions the approved OCP amendments, which would not require the District to replace the land. Others in the community, he warned, could make use of this language.

Several submissions appearing before council also “insinuated” as Coun. Patricia Pearson put it, that council has not been up front with the public. Council, she said, is not trying to “pull the wool” over the public’s eyes.

(By way of background, Pearson had said earlier that she was struggling with the decision in expressing opposition to a new building, arguing instead that existing space at Panorama Recreation Centre could accommodate additional library resources).

But Ng argued Tuesday that the municipality should have done more to alert the public about its plans, while also questioning council’s decision to approve the exclusion and proposed amendments despite submissions running about 4 to 1 against the exclusion.

Mayor Geoff Orr implicitly acknowledged some of these concerns. North Saanich, he said, should have been clearer and consistent in its messaging. Points about protecting green space were also “reasonable and valid,” he said.

The exclusion application now goes before the ALC for a decision, a process that could several months, if not up to a year or longer.

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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