The logical step for a failing golf course on agricultural reserve land is not to convert it into rows of condominiums.
The words of Frank Leonard rang out strong as the former Saanich mayor of 18 years spoke out on protecting ALR land now that his three-year term as the appointed chair of the Agricultural Land Commission has ended.
As the chair, Leonard exercised his right to flag any applications to remove failed golf courses from the ALR, and refer them directly to the ALC executive panel for review.
In other words, Leonard didn’t care if a golf course came and went, if the land was ALR, it’s going to stay that way.
“In that three years as chair, golf courses were something I was very concerned with,” Leonard said. “[Many of them] were granted the recreational use permit way back in the ‘80s with the thought being they could always go back to being agriculture land.
“I didn’t want to see [ALR] golf courses become development.”
Here in Saanich, most speculate last year’s $3.5 million sale price for the former Royal Oak Golf Course site reached that level for its real estate development potential. As it stands, most of the 27-acre Royal Oak property is in the ALR.
As the sport of golf has hit a low cycle in popularity, it’s forced and threatened the closure of a number of courses around the Peninsula. Among them is the Ardmore golf course in North Saanich, which pitched a $3.45 million for sale sign out front in April, and is on a 47-acre site zoned ALR. It will be interesting to see who pays $3.45 million when North Saanich itself turned down the 2015 proposal for another golf course, Glen Meadow, to rezone and gift 100 acres to the municipality while the owners developed housing and additional agricultural land on the remaining 30 acres.
“If golfing is not working it goes back to ALR, it does not become a condo,” Leonard said. “The same should apply to Royal Oak, Ardmore, Glen Meadow and Cedar Hill.”
In an interesting case of familiarity, Leonard presided over Saanich’s recent application when it sought permission from the ALR, but was turned down, to add health facilities and accessory retail sales to the Cedar Hill Golf Course clubhouse, which falls under ALR guidelines.
Leonard said Saanich failed to get the commercial permission for Cedar Hill Golf Course because it lacked vision in its application.
“I thought the application was a bit weak on that,” he said. “The panel felt it was adding another use to ALR land and the golf course is the only thing that was permitted.”
Saanich needs to take a step back and look at the golf course’s future on ALR land, Leonard said.
Cedar Hill Golf Course manager Carole Ireland said Saanich Parks hasn’t ruled out an appeal as of yet.
Leonard said if Saanich does appeal, one example that could sway the ALR panel’s decision is to at least reference a potential future plan to return the course grounds into a farm or park, and in the immediate, to include plans for an allotment garden, which was actually a Vic Derman suggestion from around 2011.
“The slope would be a wonderful place for allotment gardens and I think there’s a way to have small-scale agriculture there,” Leonard said.