The Sooke Lions Club has hit the brakes on its plans to add a community centre and public amenities to John Phillips Memorial Park.
“Currently, we do not feel the council is fully supportive of our plan and therefore have decided to pause and reflect on what would best serve our community and our club,” Lions project chairman Danny Willis said in a letter to the District of Sooke.
“After our town hall meeting (in September), we see the community is divided,” Willis said. “They desire a new facility to anchor events but not at the cost of giving up parklands.”
Because of the exponential growth in Sooke, the community needs more community facilities, Willis said.
Many years before Sooke incorporated, the Sooke Lions Club purchased land at Murray Road to develop a park.
“Due to vandalism issues and the development of other parks, that land has not been utilized fully,” Willis said.
The Sooke Lions have been negotiating with the District of Sooke for over a decade to trade Murray Road for another venue that would better serve the community.
The latest vision was to sell the district Murray Road at a reduced cost and develop a facility in John Phillips Memorial Park.
“Initially, we appeared to have council’s full support for this endeavour,” Willis said.
Sooke Lions Club members will discuss the future disposition of the Murray Road property.
“We have received offers to purchase the land,” Willis said. “The district is invited to make an offer separate from previous negotiations.”
Another option is that the Lions club may decide to keep the land and build a smaller hall.
The Lions club initially approached Sooke council about the possibility of leasing a portion of John Phillips Memorial Park for the project in July 2021. Council at that time directed staff to conduct an alternative approval process to gauge public support. Still, the number of electors expressing opposition was 9.3 per cent, short of the 10 per cent required to conduct a referendum.
Council later directed staff to assist the Lions with a town hall meeting. A survey was also conducted, and a consultant was hired to compile commentary for the Lions Club for consideration on their decision on whether to proceed.
A recent staff report said Sooke administration wishes to extend an invitation to the Lions Club to keep discussions open about a potential community facility in the future.
Willis thanked District of Sooke communications co-ordinator Christina Moog and corporate services assistant Jennifer Royer Collard for their support and efforts throughout the process.
William Wallace, a vocal opponent of the project, said many who worked to save this parkland are grateful to the Lions club for its decision to pause and reflect.
“It is hopeful that the park can become an important green space asset in the town core with additional green assets that could include the creation of an appropriate access pathway from the town core entering the park from Otter Point Road and Wadams Way,” Wallace said. “The present steep gravel path is inappropriate and does not encourage town core pedestrian entrance into the park.”
He also called for a significant tree-planting program to restore the urban canopy that has been removed.