Jenn Stevens, a board member of Pacific Soccer Academy FC (PACE FC), holds a ball on the site where the club plans to build an all-weather soccer field. The proposal, however, faces a lengthy process and opposition from a petition. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Soccer club pitches turf field for ALR land in Central Saanich

Proposal faces a lengthy process and opposition from a petition signed by hundreds

A spokesperson for the Central Saanich soccer club planning to build a soccer field on farmland says many details remain to be worked out. But Jenn Stevens, a board member of Pacific Soccer Academy FC (PACE FC), also believes the project has a “solid chance of moving forward in some capacity” despite opposition.

Stevens said the non-profit plans to build an all-weather soccer field near the Saanich Fairgrounds on a 10-acre property at 7480 Tomlinson Rd. recently purchased by Harj Nandhra, the club’s long-time community coach. Stevens could not name a specific completion date but hopes for spring or summer of 2021.

“This is very much in the vision phase … the vision is to hopefully by next year, perhaps the summer or spring, have the field up and running. However, again, this is a vision and with all visions, you have to put some sort of time frame on it,” Stevens said.

Plans also call for 150 community garden plots, each of 1,000 square feet.

According to a background briefing from Central Saanich staff, the club contacted the municipality earlier this year about the possibility of installing an artificial turf soccer field and running an academy on the lot zoned for agriculture within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

RELATED: Artificial turf field proposal for North Saanich to receive additional scrutiny

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Such a move would require approval from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for non-farm use.

Stevens said the club would not be making an application until it has completed a site plan and addressed public concerns about installing a turf field.

“There is a lot of concern and I’d imagine the ALC would have also some concern regarding the turf field and potential pollution,” she said, adding technology has advanced. “There has been a lot of bad PR around turf fields in the Greater Victoria.”

This said, the club remains optimistic about spring 2021 as a possible completion date. “This is the project that we have momentum for and will continue to move forward accordingly following the appropriate steps,” she said.

Comments from a senior official at the Agricultural Land Commission and Central Saanich municipal staff, however, raise some doubts about the project’s viability and timeline.

Martin Collins, director of policy and planning for the ALC, said it would not be fair to comment on a proposal without an application before the ALC. “They’d need an application and then it is a matter that would be adjudicated within the ALC’s mandate to preserve farmland and encourage farming, and then we will see what happens if they actually go ahead with it.”

When asked about the commission’s view on all-weather fields, Collins said if commission members were to find a rationale for a playing field, they would not want it to be irreversible. “[But] my understanding is that a modern all-weather field is essentially a paved parking lot covered with fake grass and rubberized pellets.”

Looking at the club’s proposed timeline, Central Saanich staff pointed to the potential lengthy nature of any application.

It would start with a submission to the ALC, which would forward the application to Central Saanich where processing time would be about four months. Once before council, its members could either deny the application or return it to the ALC for consideration with any comments or recommendations from the municipality.

At least another six months could pass before ALC renders its decision. Should the ALC approve a non-farm use application, Central Saanich councillors would need to consider issuing a temporary use permit or rezone the lot.

The proposal also faces public opposition in the form of a petition launched late last month.

“We value our ALR for food security, a quiet area, a safe road for horses and pedestrians,” it reads.

While the petition calls community recreation and sports facilities “valuable,” the proposed location is inappropriate.

The petition with some 700 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon also accuses the club of being less than transparent. “We are very concerned that this seems to be moving forward in an underhanded way, garnering public support in the soccer community prior to moving through the necessary steps of connecting with the neighbouring residents, the municipality and, of course, the ALC,” it reads.

Steven said the club does not plan to remove land from the ALR, adding that it could be used again for agriculture in the future.

As for food security, she points to the proposed community garden plots. “Quite frankly, for people, who are concerned about food supply, 150 1,000-square-foot plots are likely to produce [food] for residents more so than the hay that is only being produced on the field,” she said.

Stevens acknowledged the petition, but also warned against reading too much into it.

“The petition went out to farming groups with the message that is going to be lost agricultural land taken out of the ALR,” she said. “It is very easy and it takes three seconds for someone to sign their name to a petition with incorrect information or information that doesn’t have all the details. And to be totally fair, the details weren’t all out there.”

She acknowledges that the project faces “some obstacles,” but nonetheless strikes a positive note.

“I don’t think they are insurmountable.”


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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