Most Saanich residents only contact municipal hall when it’s time to pay property taxes or the family dog needs licensing. There are a handful of Saanichites, however, who call the municipality when the refrigerator is on the fritz.
Saanich currently owns and rents out 13 houses around the municipality.
These homes – which will eventually be torn down – are on properties that Saanich purchased in recent years with the intent to eventually use the land as part of a larger park or road-widening project.
“We’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember,” said Mayor Frank Leonard. “It’s based on a willing buyer, willing seller policy. When we identify several homes that we would like to convert to either park or road, we don’t go down the street and simply force the purchase. We approach the homeowners and say ‘If and when you’d like to sell, we’d like to be the first in line.’
“Some people say ‘sure,’ and some people say, ‘go away,’ and we wait for it to go on the market. As a result you end up with a patchwork. We wait to complete all acquisitions until we make a conversion to park or roadway, so in the meantime we rent the houses out.”
Richard Butler, who works in Saanich’s lands department, fields all the calls from tenants of the municipality when and if there’s an issue. He’s also the one who posts to UsedVictoria advertising the homes for rent at market rate.
Leonard points to Rutledge Park, and McKenzie Avenue between Blenkinsop and Borden as sites where the municipality successfully acquired the homes needed to complete a park or road project.
“We’re not doing as much of the purchasing now. The Shelbourne Valley Action Plan could lead to that sort of approach, potentially,” he said. “It’s a fairly narrow right of way there, right now. The plans could suggest we need more roadway, so we could do there what we did along McKenzie.”
Coun. Vicki Sanders points to Gorge Road as proof of Saanich’s foresight when acquiring land as part of a long-term vision.
“The whole Gorge Waterway was Saanich acquiring properties – that goes back to the ‘60s. It’s really a visionary thing Saanich has done; identifying properties for these opportunities and acquiring them as they come up,” she said.
“We can be very patient,” Leonard added, when referring to a campaign promise he made in 1996 to expand Gorge Park from Admiral’s Road to Tillicum Road. “We just continued buying homes and we only finished the demolitions in the past couple years.”
Of the 13 homes Saanich currently rents out, most are slated for future parkland. While they’re located throughout the municipality – from Cadboro Bay to Prospect Lake – there are some neighbouring properties on Roy Road and Hyacinth Avenue currently in Saanich’s possession.
The mayor says the willing buyer, willing seller policy is crucial, as he does not support expropriation. Hence the mindset that patience is a virtue.
“To expropriate someone’s home is pretty extreme, in my view. … And courts don’t look kindly on government taking people’s homes,” he said. “We try to be a respectful government, and not a heavy-handed government.”
For a few years Saanich rented out a home on Ralph Street, near the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. That changed in June 2012, when the municipality passed ownership of that house to the nature sanctuary.
“(Having this house in our possession) gives us a huge opportunity for giving back to the community in a different way,” said Barry Janyk, executive director of the sanctuary. “By having it become a part of our system, our administration, it helps to provide the longevity, the sustainability of Swan Lake.”
Renovations are currently underway at the Ralph Street house, with occupancy – Swan Lake office space and tenancy from the Garry Oak Ecological Recovery Team – expected in early May.
While the money to buy the lands typically comes from Saanich’s parks budget or development cost charges, rent money that comes in to Saanich goes to the land sales reserve fund.