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N. Saanich takes step toward Sandown land swap

Mar 27 2012

A unique land swap that would see the municipality of North Saanich own most of the Sandown racetrack land moved forward last night - albeit at glacial speed.

Council voted in favour of having a draft memorandum of understanding with the Agricultural Land Commission done up, to come back for council for approval.

The proposed swap would see the municipality take ownership of 33.5 hectares of Sandown land, all of which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In return, the municipality would take another 4.8 hectares of Sandown land along McDonald Park Road out of the land reserve and rezone it commercial. That property would be developed by the Randall family, which currently owns the entire parcel.

North Saanich would put also a 4.8-hectare parcel of municipally owned land off Little-wood Road into the land reserve, so there would be no net loss of agricultural land.

It's anticipated that the 33.5 hectares would be used for agriculture in some form, although that hasn't been determined yet.

A key issue dividing council was a "chicken and egg" question: Should the municipality proceed with the swap before determining just how the land will be put to use? Or should it meet with farm groups and determine just how the land will be used?

Getting the property and then going to the public and asking residents how they'd like to see the land used is putting the cart before the horse, said Coun. Ted Daly. Those investigations should be done before any transfer of land, he said.

Daly said he'd prefer to see a group such as the Farmlands Trust buy or lease the land. When he said "sell," many in the crowd shouted, "Shame, shame!"

But Mayor Alice Finall said until the municipality owns the land, there is little meaningful planning that can be done.

"We cannot make decisions about the future use of the property until we own it," Finall said.

If the 4.8 hectares were rezoned commercial and the remaining land consolidated in one large agricultural lot - as is suggested in the land swap - the appraised value would be $2.4 million, significantly less than the almost $6 million that the B.C.

Assessment Authority has estimated.

A report prepared by municipal staff said there is a financial benefit to the swap. Along with the land worth $2.4 million would come years of new tax revenue and leases from the commercially zoned area.

Over 10 years, that is estimated at being between $1.47 million to $2.3 million for a total expected benefit of $3.87 million to $4.7 million over 10 years. That could vary depending on how long the commercial buildout takes.

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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