Saanich residents support a plan to build a large eight-court tennis facility – just not behind the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.
At a meeting Tuesday night at the rec centre, scores of residents expressed frustration at Saanich for allowing the tennis proposal to move forward amid a lack of public consultation.
People in the crowd argued that there’s nothing that indicates a demand or need for more tennis courts in Saanich, nor has the municipality properly gauged community input for future use for the land in question.
The site is viewed as open greenspace, though it currently houses two little-used softball diamonds.
The plan to build eight clay courts and a small pavilion isn’t coming from Saanich – it’s from a non-profit called the Cedar Hill Clay Court Tennis Society.
John Miller, president of the society, says it wants to build a club on Saanich-owned parkland in a partnership similar to that of soccer clubs or lawn bowling clubs, where Saanich leases the land to the society, which owns, operates and maintains the infrastructure.
But Saanich Coun. Vicki Sanders, who along with some 80 other residents attended the meeting at the recreation centre, says there’s a big difference between this proposed tennis partnership and others that currently exist.
“Most of the other partnerships were improvements to well-established recreation (infrastructure). Like the all-weather field at Braefoot Park. What the (Lakehill Soccer) organization did was they upgraded the soccer fields – they didn’t take anything away from the community,” Sanders said. “This is going to take something away.”
Miller spent much of the night defending his plan to people who aren’t keen to see the public space change.
“When I see a community allotment garden or a public swimming pool or a lacrosse facility or a soccer field that’s on public land, I don’t look at it and say, ‘Boy, that could be just open public space.’ I look at it and say, ‘I’m not a soccer player, I don’t have a garden in the community allotment garden, but I appreciate that it’s there because a lot of people do use it and do appreciate its use,” he said.
Most attendees supported the idea – in principle – of a state-of-the-art tennis facility in the municipality, just not at the expense of greenspace at Cedar Hill. Some residents suggested alternative locations near Lambrick Park or Reynolds secondary schools.
Miller told the crowded room that the society looked at all its options for locating the tennis club, and the Saanich land behind the rec centre was the only viable option.
“There are existing tennis courts at Cedar Hill, so it makes sense to have these (clay) tennis courts right there,” he said.
Saanich parks and recreation says there are currently backlogs and waiting lists to access tennis lessons and court times at Cedar Hill.
Former Saanich councillor Carol Pickup spoke at the meeting, organized by the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, on behalf of people opposed to the plan.
She outlined eight major concerns that need to be addressed, including what she called a “flawed consultation process” and the potential impact the facility could have on nearby Bowker Creek and any future restoration plans.
“Bowker Creek and Saanich’s commitment to the natural resource – that is a very important issue and Saanich’s feet should be held to the fire on that one. They should be moving to do that restoration and enhancing, without having to entertain eight tennis courts,” Pickup said.
Residents also expressed concerns around the notification process, as many people didn’t know there was a proposal for the site, let alone that Saanich-owned greenspace was up for grabs.
Sanders says Saanich should have taken the initiative, when the society approached the municipality, to ask residents how they see the future of that land.
“Saanich could’ve done the actual planning for the greenspace, not become the people promoting the tennis courts,” she said. “That’s where the conversation needs to start first.”
Miller hopes to go before Saanich council in June to present the proposal.
Q&A with Saanich’s mayor on the clay tennis court proposal
Saanich News: Doesn’t the parks and rec master plan indicate that there isn’t a big demand for tennis in Saanich?
Frank Leonard: We’ve certainly encouraged all sports groups to put in their wish-lists for that master plan, and I still get approached by people who’d like a field for this or a field for that – not only tennis.
SN: Does Saanich or the Cedar Hill Clay Court Tennis Society know what impact the tennis facility, if built, could have on Bowker Creek?
FL: Well we want to know that prior to it coming to council. That’s some of the information that myself and councillors will want to get before making a decision. There are questions that need to be answered before it comes before council… if and when.
SN: How much work has Saanich parks and rec staff put into this proposal?
FL: I don’t think it’s particularly excessive in terms of other community groups that come forward with ideas.
We had our lawn bowling clubs, when they want to redevelop their clubhouse, or our soccer folks when they change from sod to artificial turf, even lighting sometimes on a baseball diamond or soccer field take up a fair amount of staff time because you need to interact with the neighbours and the community.
Parks and recreation … the inventory is people. And that takes time.
Look at what we’re doing with allotment gardens. Our staff are putting a lot of time in with advocates and neighbours and with community groups well before it comes to council, and that’s our expectation: things come to council once it’s had extensive vetting.
SN: Are there other recreation partnerships that have taken away such a large parcel of existing public greenspace for a private single-use facility?
FL: Well not in decades because we’re built out now.
Certainly that’s going to have to be one of the issues council has to ponder. Is this a win-win or is it a win-lose? It’s certainly one of the issues the advocates have to overcome.
SN: Why hasn’t the question: “What do you think is the best use of this space?” been asked to Saanich residents?
FL: If this is turned down, I guess then somebody else might come forward with another proposal for this space. This one came purely from the tennis group. But it’s their proposal.
They’re very much being asked to do what we insist developers do if they want to build any housing or commercial development: have community consultation, get people engaged, and then come to council.
So the tennis group is within their rights to make a suggestion or proposal, and we’re looking for community input before council considers it. I think people are within their right to make suggestions and within their right to make proposals.
Time will tell whether they succeed or not.