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Saanich nears gaining Haro Woods as parkland

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard stands in Haro Woods, a swath of forest in Cadboro Bay that the municipality will likely come to own as new parkland in a deal with the Capital Regional District. Leondard said he
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard stands in Haro Woods, a swath of forest in Cadboro Bay that the municipality will likely come to own as new parkland in a deal with the Capital Regional District. Leondard said he's been waiting for 30 years to have this land protected.
— image credit: Edward Hill/News staff

Haro Woods, a forest in Cadboro Bay twice eyed to host large sewage treatment plants, will be preserved as parkland, minus a parcel dedicated to an underground sewage holding tank.

Saanich council unanimously supported sending the Haro Woods rezoning to a public hearing, which appears to be a formality. The mayor and each councillor voiced strong support for a land swap with the Capital Regional District, which would give the municipality ownership of the majority of the forest.

"This will be of huge value to the Cadboro Bay community and its long-term goal to have Haro Wood substantially preserved and protected," said Coun. Vic Derman during Mondays committee of the whole meeting. "It's been a circuitous route, but we are there."

Parcels of the forest, bounded by Finnerty Road, Arbutus Road and Haro Road, were targeted for a sewage treatment plant by Saanich in 1961, and then by the CRD in 2009. In 1990, Saanich mulled using part of it and Goward Park for affordable housing.

Under a deal wrangled over the past two years, the CRD will give Saanich 4.33 hectares of forest in exchange for 1.5 ha to house the 5,000 cubic metre underground tank, which is designed to capture overflows from sewer lines during major storms. Saanich will retain another 1.4 ha of forest next to the tank site. The entire 8.5 ha forest, including a portion owned by the University of Victoria, should appear as one, after vegetation is planted over the tank.

Before the land swap is finalized, council needs to rezone the forest parcels from residential to nature park and a utility zoning specifically for the tank. After a public hearing, council will vote on the rezoning.

"UVic has put a covenant on its part and today we've doubled the size of Saanich's holding. And it's the only utility zone in Canada that says everything has to be underground," said Mayor Frank Leonard. "It's a remarkable achievement compared to what was happening 25 or 30 years ago, which would have meant a lot of houses and a lot of townhouses."

No one at Monday's meeting voiced opposition to the rezoning and land swap. Area resident Bob Furber cautioned council that digging a hole for the holding tank could damage tree roots far beyond the immediate work zone.

"I pleased the land will be rezoned from residential to parkland. The challenge is to preserve as many trees as possible," Furber said. "I hope the zoning is designed with tree preservation in mind."

Coun. Judy Brownoff noted that the CRD would need to submit an environmental management plan to Saanich before it receives a building permit. Deane Strongitharm of CitySpaces Consulting, who is managing the rezoning application for Saanich, said an arborist would be involved in the construction process to minimize tree root damage.

"This is a responsible, environmentally sound plan. The site is a perfect location of compromise," Brownoff said. "Careful thought has gone into planning with respect to sensitive areas."

The holding tank is budgeted at $12 million, and will come out of the $783 million budget for the CRD regional sewage project. The tank will connect to existing sewer lines that crisscross the property, be over-pressured and have a carbon air filter to eliminate odours. When approved, construction will take about 12 months.

CRD engineer Malcolm Cowley said the tank won't emit smells and will be similar to one in the Marigold area. He said the current Saanich sewer system in Cadboro Bay occasionally "off-gasses" odours, and the tank would solve that problem.

It is also gravity fed, so it has no pump noise, and will prevent raw sewage from being pushed into outflows in Cadboro Bay due to stormwater. "It will be underground with vegetation planted on top, and no fencing," Strongitharm said. "All the properties would have seamless integration."

The project also includes building bike lanes, a stormwater ditch and a sidewalk along Arbutus Road, next to the forest.  Strongitharm said the sidewalk could "meander," but that some trees could be taken down.

"We don't need a cookie-cutter sidewalk. We can do something to save trees," Brownoff said.

After the swap

When the Haro forest is rezoned and swapped, Saanich parks will undertake a public process to decide the nature of the new park in terms of uses, trails and infrastructure.

Nick Scott with the South Vancouver Island Mountain Bike Society told council the woods have a long history of youth building trails and small dirt jumps in haphazard, environmentally damaging ways. He offered the group's expertise in managing perhaps one trail for young kids to ride, while eliminating the many small offshoot trails in the woods.

"Haro has a long history of kids building jumps and riding bikes," Scott said. "SIMBS proposes existing recreational trails be upgraded to prevent undesirable trail expansion. The benefits to Saanich are recreational opportunities and environmental preservation."

editor@saanichnews.com

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