Central Saanich will formally alert the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) about a soccer pitch proposal on agricultural land, even though no application has come forward.
Councillors voted unanimously to forward a staff report and news coverage about plans by Pacific Soccer Academy FC 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. Such a move would require approval from the ALC for non-farm use following a formal application to the commission, which has not yet come forward and may not yet come forward for some time.
Mayor Ryan Windsor said this move is “purely for the information of the ALC at this point” while confirming that no application has come forward. But proposed plans have also caused what he called “concerns” among neighbours in alluding to a petition opposing the project launched by Stacy and Mark Sherman, who live next to the property.
The petition, which has drawn almost 1,000 signatures, calls on councillors to preserve the land for agricultural use, while also raising questions about the club’s transparency.
Windsor, for his part, appears to have some sympathies for this point.
“The concern is that there is a proper way to go about a process for a non-farm use application,” he said. “So far much of what has been done by this applicant has been through media and press releases, and the concern exists that activity may be undertaking without proper seeking of approvals. So my concern is that the ALC should at the very least know that this potentially exists.”
Coun. Niall Paltiel said that informing the ALC now could save the community a divisive debate. The proposal has already and would continue to cause a lot of discussion in the community among those who are “passionate about recreation” and those who are “passionate about the prospect of change” on the ALR land. Because the provincial government regulates the ALR, the best thing Central Saanich can do is get a better understanding from the ALC about its approach.
“I don’t think it is fair to applicant, to the community, to the neighbourhoods especially, to begin what could be potentially a quite heated and lengthy process, when the ALC may have some suggestions right off the bat,” he said.
Jenn Stevens, a board member of the academy, said earlier this month that 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.”
The club also plans to reach out to the community, she said.
By way of background, the entire application process could take several months, and the report now going to the ALC said staff told the club in April 2020 that it would not be able to support such an application, pointing to various principles and policies supporting the preservation of agricultural land for agricultural purposes.
Should the ALC receive an application, the commission would then forward it to Central Saanich for review. As the report notes, councillors then have the option of not forwarding the application, effectively denying the application. If council forwards the application, with or without comment, the ALC would then review the application separately and independently of the municipality’s review.
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