Metchosin Mayor John Ranns says consternation from residents over the stalled sale of a buffer zone property to the Capital Regional District risks hurting relationships with the Sc’ianew (Beecher Bay) First Nation.
The District of Metchosin had been negotiating a sale of the largest portion of the buffer zone (around 112 acres) – land acquired during the 2017 land swap agreement between Metchosin, Langford and Scia’new – to the CRD for $274,400. But that process stalled around the end of October last year, according to Lisa Urlacher, Metchosin’s chief administrative officer.
In the months since, residents have raised concerns about the process, which they say was done behind closed doors without public consultation, as well as voicing concerns over the proposed price for the land sale.
“Selling the land without public knowledge is a breach of trust to us and the other signatories. It’s an insult to (late former councillor) Moralea’s (Milne) memory and council’s intent and I say shame on you,” said resident Wendy Mitchell during the July 18 council meeting. She asked why council was seeking to change the 2017 land swap agreement by selling portions of the land.
In response, Ranns said he was limited to what he could say because of a standstill agreement the district signed in February with Sc’ianew, Pearson College UWC and the Habitat Acquisition Trust relating to a potential Indigenous protected area (IPA) on land at Mary Hill currently owned by the Department of National Defence.
Mitchell said linking the two was a red herring.
Later in an interview with Black Press Media, Ranns expanded on the topic.
“There’s a bigger picture to this that we cannot discuss. But it was primarily the fact that we could not get around the low valuation. We killed the deal, it was killed by Metchosin council. But something that’s (important) … no sale would have taken place without full public input. This was just negotiations that were taking place,” he said.
In a statement on the district’s website, Urlacher said selling the buffer zone to the CRD “was one of various options that the district was exploring as part of a potential contribution to a future Mary Hill IPA outcome.” Each party to the agreement is currently working independently to identify ways of contributing to that outcome, she added.
In the interview, Ranns characterized the process as one of most frustrating he’s dealt with as mayor, noting he has explained the issues brought forward by residents about the deal during previous meetings.
“I’m frustrated by the exploitation of this issue for the purposes of an election narrative, and I’m frustrated with my inability to be able to tell the whole story as to the logic behind what we’re doing, which I think would be fully embraced, or at least mostly embraced by the residents of this community.”
The standstill agreement, signed back in February and scheduled to last 18 months, means further progress on the buffer zone issue will likely be dealt with by Metchosin council members elected this fall. Ranns, part of council since 1987, announced his plans not to run in October’s municipal election.
The Goldstream Gazette has reached out to Sc’ianew for comment.