Saanich has hired a private company to help determine whether Saanich should move its parks and public works yard to a new location or re-develop the current site at the corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue.

Future of Saanich’s parks and public works yard divides council

Council voted 5-4 to continue search for an alternate location that may host the facility in future

Saanich’s political leadership appears deeply divided over the future of the parks and public works yard.

Council voted 5-4 to approve the hiring of private real estate company Colliers International to help determine whether Saanich should move its parks and public works yard to a new location or redevelop the current site at the corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue.

Council approved this funding after a staff review of “all public and private lands with relevant criteria” over the course of 10 months had come up inconclusive.

Mayor Fred Haynes called the redevelopment of the facility a once-in-a-century decision that cannot be reversed in justifying the spending. “Is the public works yard staying here or is it relocating?” he asked in framing the larger question facing Saanich. “So to take three months and spend $30,000 from council’s strategic initiatives fund is an appropriate approach, an appropriate use of funds in my mind.”

Couns. Karen Harper, Colin Plant, Ned Taylor and Zac de Vries agreed. “It is reasonable to do a full canvassing of what is possible,” said Plant, adding that the public expects authorities to do their research.

Plant said continued use of that land for a public works yard does not represent its best use. “Hypothetically, if we could find a piece of land that was of less value and acquire that piece of land, the opportunity to develop…the [public works yard land], and actually pay for the complete relocation of the public works yard and not raises taxes to do that has appeal to me,” he said.

The public also heard earlier that Saanich is already doing the work. If Saanich does not hire Colliers with funds from council’s strategic initiatives fund, staff will have to find the money elsewhere, said Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer.

RELATED: Saanich to hire private real estate company to oversee development of public works yard

Opposition came from Couns. Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff, Nathalie Chambers and Rebecca Mersereau, who broadly argued in favour of redeveloping the facility at its current location, noting that it is already large enough, zoned for the use, and accepted by the neighbourhood.

Brice said Saanich showed visionary foresight when it purchased the land for the facility. What was once at the edge of Saanich is now a strategic location that allows the municipality to service most of its residents in an economic, efficient and environmental way, she said.

The size of the property also opens up opportunities to create a mixed-use space that would not include a showcase public facility featuring the latest developments in sustainable technology, but also affordable and public housing, commercial as well as educational space.

“Let us envision 1040 McKenzie as the Saanich Centre for Environmental Excellence, a vibrant mix of public and private uses,” she said. “Let us not sell this opportunity short by justifying that the motion is simply about getting more information.”

RELATED: Costs loom as Saanich considers future of public works yard

Chambers questioned why Saanich would continue to look for alternatives, when staff have already failed to come up with alternative locations that are large enough but also close enough to Saanich’s current and future population hubs.

“It is a cost-effective location,” she said. “This land that Saanich owns was once purchased for far less than what Saanich municipality could buy it for now. The value of that land increase belongs to the public, and I believe it would not be in the best interest of the public to sell it.”

While she acknowledged that facility is in need of ecological restoration, she questioned why the municipality would seek private outside help in redeveloping the site. “Who are the best people to do this job?” she asked. “We are. We have all the brains and all the tools.”

Mersereau said the potential redevelopment of the facility at its current location excites her, and while she would like to see Colliers succeed where Saanich has failed, she is not sure that the company will. “At this juncture, based on the information I have, it is quite unlikely.”

Saanich had formally launched plans to redevelop the parks and public works yard in the spring of 2018 after a report ranked the facility plus Fire Hall N0. 2 as the “highest priorities” for capital investments over the next 20 years. That report found among other points that the facility’s current condition pose a risk to service delivery.

Saanich has stipulated that potential properties must be within the Urban Containment Boundary, with a minimum area of six acres and a preference for eight or nine acres, said McLeod.

One group likely following this work with interest is the Greater Victoria Velodrome Association.

RELATED: ‘Preliminary’ discussions identify public works yard as potential velodrome site

It plans to build a velodrome and internal discussions have identified the public works yard as a potential location for the facility with a potential price tag of up to $120 million.


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