Saanich’s political leadership appears deeply divided over the future of the parks and public works yard.
Council voted 5-4 to approve the hiring of private real estate company Colliers International to help determine whether Saanich should move its parks and public works yard to a new location or redevelop the current site at the corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue.
Council approved this funding after a staff review of “all public and private lands with relevant criteria” over the course of 10 months had come up inconclusive.
Mayor Fred Haynes called the redevelopment of the facility a once-in-a-century decision that cannot be reversed in justifying the spending. “Is the public works yard staying here or is it relocating?” he asked in framing the larger question facing Saanich. “So to take three months and spend $30,000 from council’s strategic initiatives fund is an appropriate approach, an appropriate use of funds in my mind.”
Couns. Karen Harper, Colin Plant, Ned Taylor and Zac de Vries agreed. “It is reasonable to do a full canvassing of what is possible,” said Plant, adding that the public expects authorities to do their research.
Plant said continued use of that land for a public works yard does not represent its best use. “Hypothetically, if we could find a piece of land that was of less value and acquire that piece of land, the opportunity to develop…the [public works yard land], and actually pay for the complete relocation of the public works yard and not raises taxes to do that has appeal to me,” he said.
The public also heard earlier that Saanich is already doing the work. If Saanich does not hire Colliers with funds from council’s strategic initiatives fund, staff will have to find the money elsewhere, said Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer.
Opposition came from Couns. Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff, Nathalie Chambers and Rebecca Mersereau, who broadly argued in favour of redeveloping the facility at its current location, noting that it is already large enough, zoned for the use, and accepted by the neighbourhood.
Brice said Saanich showed visionary foresight when it purchased the land for the facility. What was once at the edge of Saanich is now a strategic location that allows the municipality to service most of its residents in an economic, efficient and environmental way, she said.
The size of the property also opens up opportunities to create a mixed-use space that would not include a showcase public facility featuring the latest developments in sustainable technology, but also affordable and public housing, commercial as well as educational space.
“Let us envision 1040 McKenzie as the Saanich Centre for Environmental Excellence, a vibrant mix of public and private uses,” she said. “Let us not sell this opportunity short by justifying that the motion is simply about getting more information.”
Chambers questioned why Saanich would continue to look for alternatives, when staff have already failed to come up with alternative locations that are large enough but also close enough to Saanich’s current and future population hubs.
“It is a cost-effective location,” she said. “This land that Saanich owns was once purchased for far less than what Saanich municipality could buy it for now. The value of that land increase belongs to the public, and I believe it would not be in the best interest of the public to sell it.”
While she acknowledged that facility is in need of ecological restoration, she questioned why the municipality would seek private outside help in redeveloping the site. “Who are the best people to do this job?” she asked. “We are. We have all the brains and all the tools.”
Mersereau said the potential redevelopment of the facility at its current location excites her, and while she would like to see Colliers succeed where Saanich has failed, she is not sure that the company will. “At this juncture, based on the information I have, it is quite unlikely.”