Saanich now officially owns a piece of land that it plans to convert into a park, but it is not clear yet if the municipality will keep all of it as it looks for ways to raise money to help offset the purchase cost.
The municipality now officially owns Kings Park, the unofficial name of land between between Kings Road and Haultain Street once deemed surplus by BC Hydro, which it had owned since 1958.
Saanich purchased the lot with an area of 2.2 hectares for $5.5 million with an eye towards developing a park, with the proviso that the municipality has yet to announce its formal plans. It instead speaks of the park’s purchase as “an effort to respond to the needs of the community and capitalize on future opportunities” without specifically identifying the “needs” and “future opportunities.”
But this purchase has always come with a catch. Saanich said that it will sell portions of the lot, if it cannot raise $2.75 million, a point the municipality confirmed in its press release announcing the development.
“If [council] is unable to raise funds to offset the incurred debt, Saanich intends to dispose of a portion of the property to recuperate some of the cost,” it reads.
Saanich financed the initial purchase through borrowing $4 million and tapping into reserve funds for $1.5 million.
The purchase of the lot came after lobbying from area residents among other parties. Acting mayor Karen Harper said council heard from residents that the lot is crucial part of their community. “We are thrilled to be able to respond to these needs,” she said. “Work is now underway to develop a fundraising process to cover a portion of the purchase cost, in order to remain fiscally responsible.”
That work will happens through a mayor’s standing committee that consists out of three community members and three members of council. The committee’s terms of reference include the development and implementation of a fundraising action; the coordination of fundraising efforts with other community groups and stakeholders, and offering recommendations about financial contributions from other local governments. Saanich, in other words, plans to feel out other municipalities and the Capital Regional District (CRD) to help pay the bill.
Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria previously praised Saanich’s purchase of the land and called the creation of regional park a “realistic option.” But the group also expressed doubts about the willingness of taxpayers in other municipalities to help out.
“Asking Oak Bay and the City of Victoria for tax dollars will be a non-starter with its residents,” said Bruce Kennedy of the group.
The municipality promises more information about how the public can contribute to the purchase of the land in coming months.
Saanich’s announcement marks a major turning point in the history of the property, but also for the municipality, which sees urban parks as a crucial component of plans to increase residential density.
“This is a neighbourhood in Saanich that’s growing, and it’s important that we protect this valuable piece of green space for the community to enjoy for generations to come,” said Coun. Ned Taylor.