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Racetrack owner ready to sell after land swap rejection

Dec 14 2011

The owner of the Sandown racetrack lands said Tuesday that unless he hears something positive from the municipality in 30 days, he'll sell off the land for estates rather than wait for the divided North Saanich council to agree on how best to use the property for agriculture.

The council voted 4-3 Monday to turn down staff recommendations that would have moved along a plan for a landswap that would see North Saanich take ownership of 33.5 hectares of Sandown land in return for taking 4.8 hectares along McDonald Park Road out of the Agricultural Land Reserve and zoning it commercial. The municipality would also put 4.8 hectares off Littlewood Road into the land reserve, so there is no net loss of agricultural land.

The plan, heralded by Mayor Alice Finall as "one of a kind," had the unanimous support of the previous council. But the new council, sworn in Dec. 5, voted against it — including two councillors who had voted in favour of the plan on the previous council.

That's left property owner Bill Randall hanging, and it's not a position he intends to be in for long.

"We have to have an answer in a month that they are reasonably amenable to going ahead," said Randall, whose family has owned the Sandown land for 55 years. "To me, they were politicking [Monday] night. They should all have come to the meeting informed. If they had questions and didn't have answers, then don't hold the meeting."

Councillors Craig Mearns, Dunstan Browne, Ted Daly and Connie McBride voted against moving the project to the next step. They had a variety of questions and concerns, mainly about the cost of the project, lack of public consultation and a covenant that says the 33.5 hectares would remain zoned agricultural in perpetuity.

"All seven members of council think that, without the covenant and conditions, it's a great deal," said former mayor Ted Daly, elected as a councillor this term.

"But let's sort out the conditions and the costs first. There should also be room for compromise and public consultation."

Mearns also focused on the unknown costs of making the land, which has been used for horse-racing for decades, farmable.

"Everyone thinks you just turn on a switch and it becomes farmland," Mearns said.

"It will cost money and a lot of the people in North Saanich don't want to see a ton of money spent on a project that is social farming."

Finall has asked staff to provide as many answers to questions raised at the meeting as possible, including information on costs of drainage and runoff, at the January council meeting.

Both she and Daly said they don't think the project is over.

"It's a hesitation or a road bump," Finall said.

But making changes to conditions asked for by the Agricultural Land Commission, which, she said, rarely agrees to such a landswap and did so only with conditions attached, may be a "deal breaker." The key condition objected to by those who voted no was keeping the 33.5 hectares in the land reserve in perpetuity.

"It's a little naive to suggest that this proposal, which has to satisfy the land owner, has to satisfy the district, has to satisfy the Agricultural Land Commission and has to satisfy the CRD, could proceed without conditions," Finall said.

If this deal is scuttled, the district gains nothing but eight more large estates, she said.

The zoning on the land would allow Randall to sell it off in eight parcels ranging in size from 0.8 of a hectare to 8.0 hectares.

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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