Saanich moves closer to taking posession of Panama Flats

The $2.4-million deal between Saanich and Island Berry Company, which has owned Panama Flats since 2008, includes the exchange of municipal land on Cherry Road, where Island Berry hopes to build nine homes. The land, which Saanich has deemed surplus, is made up of five properties currently zoned for agricultural use. Island Berry needed Saanich to rezone and subdivide them for single-family use prior to the deal for Panama Flats going through.

Saanich’s acquisition of Panama Flats is one step closer, after the one wrinkle still in need of ironing out was dealt with Monday night.

The $2.4-million deal between Saanich and Island Berry Company, which has owned Panama Flats since 2008, includes the exchange of municipal land on Cherry Road, where Island Berry hopes to build nine homes. The land, which Saanich has deemed surplus, is made up of five properties currently zoned for agricultural use. Island Berry needed Saanich to rezone and subdivide them for single-family use prior to the deal for Panama Flats going through.

“The acquisition is subject to (Island Berry) acquiring the lands (already) rezoned (as nine single-family lots),” said Mayor Frank Leonard.

In a letter from the Residents’ Association of Strawberry Vale, Marigold and Glanford, president Marlene Todd said there are a few things that need to be dealt with before the application would receive neighbourhood approval.

“We support this development with reservation, providing the amount of lots is reduced and a viable solution is found for … traffic,” she said.

Eric Barker, an architect hired by Saanich to look at developing the Cherry Road land, projected a nine-home subdivision would add no more than 34 cars to the street.

The association would prefer seeing one less home built, which is what Saanich originally asked Barker to draw up. The association also wants a solution to the “traffic nightmare” on nearby Wilkinson Road.

It was a sentiment echoed by neighbours and councillors at Monday night’s meeting. Coun. Judy Brownoff, who lives near Cherry Road, said improvements need to be made so pedestrians feel safer at the Wilkinson and Cherry roads intersection.

“I believe we owe the residents some amenity here,” added Coun. Paul Gerrard.

An optimistic – but realistic – Coun. Vicki Sanders said there is no easy solution to the traffic issue around Wilkinson and Interurban roads. “I hope in my lifetime we can solve the traffic problem.”

Despite the acknowledged traffic issues, councillors voted unanimously to send the rezoning application to public hearing.

Cherry Road is located on the southern border of the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre. A report to council says the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General would like a full disclosure statement provided to prospective purchasers, indicating potential impacts as a result of living across from the jail.

Panama Flats is a 62-acre floodplain between Carey and Interurban roads that the municipality purchased for its value in flood management, as well as recreational and agricultural opportunities.

Just how Saanich will develop Panama Flats has yet to be worked out. Community consultation will help determine how it should be used, Leonard said in February. Agriculture uses are still in the mix – including an idea for allotment gardens – so long as they preserves the integrity of the Colquitz River floodplain.

“It’s important for municipal infrastructure that you have floodplain for capacity issues to avoid flooding elsewhere,” Leonard said.

In addition to the 5,704-square-metre Cherry Road land, the deal with Island Berry also includes $910,000 cash from municipal reserves and a separate parcel of land at Carey and Roy roads, which will be divided into three lots.

It’s estimated to cost the municipality $300,000 to restore the habitat, improve trails and manage stormwater in the flats.

kslavin@saanichnews.com