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Sandown land swap rejected

Dec 13 2011

North Saanich council split 4-3 Monday night in a vote to reject moving a controversial proposal over the future of the Sandown racetrack lands forward.

Dozens of the 100 people who jammed council chambers stormed out. There were some boos and a man called out, "You stupid, ignorant people!"

The municipality's chief administrative officer said the vote against moving the land swap forward does not put an end to the project.

"Basically, there was no decision either forward or back," Rob Buchan said.

The proposed deal would allow racetrack owner Bill Randall to remove 4.8 hectares of Sandown land from the Agricultural Land Reserve and have it rezoned for commercial use. He would then donate the remaining 33.5 hectares to the municipality. The proposed plan is to use it for agriculture, possibly small-lot farms and education.

The municipality would add 4.8 hectares off Littlewood Road behind the municipal hall to the Agricultural Land Reserve, so there would be no net loss of ALR land.

If approved, big-box stores and gaming activities would not be allowed in the commercial portion.

The Sandown property is currently assessed at about $6.6 million, prompting those in favour of the land swap to call it a "$6-million gift" that likely will never come along again.

"This proposal is something that will come our way only once," said Mayor Alice Finall, who has championed the project from the start.

Finall and councillors Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock voted in favour of a staff recommendation that the municipality prepare a memorandum of understanding with the Agricultural Land Commission and authorize the spending of up to $9,000 to do an environmental assessment of the Sandown land.

Those steps would merely provide more information for council and also send a message to the owner that the municipality was moving forward, they said.

Landowner Bill Randall was calm and clear addressing council.

"It's up to council to decide what you want to do with that property," Randall said. "I'd like it considered and moved along one way or another. I don't want to be here in six months."

At some point — Randall suggested it might be six months down the road — the family simply will move forward and subdivide the land into eight large lots. They would likely be sold for estate homes.

The family has spent about $20,000 so far on the project but Randall said they will do nothing further until they get direction from council.

He was not available for comment after Monday's council meeting.

The issue has highlighted a deep divide on North Saanich council. Councillors Ted Daly, Dunstan Browne, Craig Mearns and Connie McBride voted against the staff recommendations.

They also voted earlier this month to oust Finall as the Capital Regional District representative.

There are simply too many unanswered questions about costs associated with creating farmland on the Sandown land to move it ahead without more concrete information and public input, they said.

All said they liked many aspects of the proposal, but that more information on specific costs are needed. As well, former mayor Daly questioned why all 33.5 hectares have to be used for agriculture.

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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