Saanich has confirmed issuing a permit to remove upwards of 4,900 trees on the 12-hectare property along Watkiss Way, directly north of the Victoria General Hospital.
Doug Henderson, director of parks and recreation at the District of Saanich, can’t recall a tree removal as significant in his time with the municipality.
“We understand the scope of it but it doesn’t change the legislation or bylaw that we have to follow,” Henderson said.
It’s the latest chapter in the story of the Watkiss Way saga, which has gained plenty of attention for its potential as a sewage treatment site and a park.
Because 11 of the 12 hectares are within the Agricultural Land Reserve, there was no stopping owner Allen Vandekerkhove from receiving the tree removal permit, which he says will make way to farm, likely hay.
The permit application originally came to Saanich in October 2014. Saanich asked for additional info, such as some clarity on the area of trees and an indication that soils in that area could sustain a crop. The owner, Vandekerkhove, brought those to Saanich in October 2015 and received the permit.
But others, such as Mayor Richard Atwell, are hoping there is still a chance to rescue the property, and some of the trees, for a better purpose than crops.
Vanderkerkove also owns the surrounding properties and said earlier this year he’s open to either selling or leasing the land to the Capital Regional District to house its wastewater treatment and biosolids processing facilities.
Vandekerkhove and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins originally asked the CRD to consider the site as a potential sewage site in 2013 but that didn’t take. In June 2015, Saanich council voted 5-4 against Atwell’s motion to forward the property to the CRD, so the latter could add it to their long list of potential treatment sites and pump stations. When Atwell brought it back to council in July for reconsideration, it was again voted down as a potential site for CRD to review.
Atwell, who was a CRD sewage critic with the RITE Plan prior to becoming mayor, believes farming the property is Plan B for the Vandekerhoves.
“He spent $100,000 of his money on a (sewage site) proposal to bring to Saanich,” Atwell said. “Council should have been looking at all the options, the impacts of all the decisions, and the community should have been involved in the process.”
In 2013, David Poje suggested Saanich purchase the land as parkland but that was turned down. Said Coun. Judy Brownoff at the time, “The land is in Saanich, but it would definitely be a park for View Royal. And more parkland creates more park to maintain, even if it is a natural park.”
In 2013 Saanich was also coming off recent purchases of Panama Flats ($2.4 million in cash and property) and Haro Woods ($1.48 million and 3.5 hectares of land).