Saanich faced criticism for not including the Cedar Hill Golf Course in the Cedar Hill Park Visioning and Planning Project. Black Press File.

Saanich takes heat for excluding golf course from park study

Despite concerns about process, Saanich council has endorsed the next step of the planning process for Cedar Hill Park.

“I’m a little troubled by the process,” said Mayor Richard Atwell. “I don’t see it flawed, but I see room for improvement.”

He made these comments after councillors heard from both staff and other participants in the Cedar Hill Park Visioning and Planning Project.

It has now entered the second phase after council received a report into the first phase, which produced a vision statement among other outcomes, but also exposed disagreements among members of a committee consisting of Saanich staff and community members representing three community associations, Cedar Hill Golf Club, Friends of Cedar Hill Park and Capital Regional District, the so-called Stakeholder Working Group (SWG)

Cedar Hill Park Park is one of the largest municipal parks at 53.4 hectares. It includes the Cedar Hill Golf Course, Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, McRae House, the well-used chip trail as well as two baseball diamonds, Kings Pond and natural areas.

Al Lubkowski, a director at large with the Camosun Community Association, said Saanich’s decision to exclude the golf course and the recreation centre study, has frustrated the working group, a point concerned area resident Peter Haddon echoed when he said that staff was trying to control the planning process, as well as public collaboration.

The decision of staff to focus their interim report on public open spaces, creeks and open ponds among other issues is not consistent with the decision of the SWG to include the whole park in the scope of the final report.

“We must acknowledge the inherent tension between the demands of the golf, arts, and recreation business operations, and preserving important green, open and natural spaces,” he said. “It was this conflict that led to the clay courts fiasco, and we need to plan accordingly.” Haddon also questioned why the SWG will not participate in the drafting process now underway.

“We didn’t want to get bogged in the operations of the recreation centre or golf course,” said Gary Darrah, manager of parks planning and development. This said, he promised that staff would incorporate feedback around the golf course.

Suzanne Samborski, director of parks and recreation, said Saanich does not foresee any significant changes to the operations of the golf course in the future.

“We didn’t have direction [from council] that we should consider alternative uses for the golf course,” she said. If this changes, Saanich would have to develop a new plan, and consult with the community, she said.

The public also heard that staff have not terminated the participation of the SWG. “Somebody needs to take the reins and write the plan,” said Darrah. But once staff have completed the plan, they will consult with the SWG before presenting it to the public and council.

Several members of council hoped that would be the case.

“If there is a kernel of an idea [from the SWG], it needs to get to the public in a large scale,” said Atwell. “Otherwise, the scope will be narrow, the changes will be narrow, the improvement will be narrow.”

But if individual members of council voiced criticism, their discomfort was not sufficient to push for alternatives. As Coun. Colin Plant said, receipt of the report amounted to an endorsement of the process thus far.

Coun. Dean Murdock struck a similar tone, saying the disagreements heard Monday appear to rest on mis-interpretations. “I regret the impression that has been created,” he said. “There is no malicious intent.”

Murdock acknowledged the process has lasted longer than anticipated. Staff had initially anticipated to complete the first phase within seven to eight months instead of 14 months.

But this ultimately will benefit the final plan, said Murdock.

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