The back-and-forth rally between tennis lovers and Saanich residents is over.
The contentious, two-year-long debate ended Saturday when Saanich council unanimously rejected the Cedar Hill Clay Court Tennis Society’s proposal to build eight clay courts behind the rec centre.
“It’s as though a great weight has been lifted off the community’s shoulders,” said Peter Haddon, one of a handful of Saanich residents behind SaveCedarHillPark.com.
Saanich council heard from 183 speakers over the course of three public meetings before voting 9-0 to reject the plan to develop two little-used baseball diamonds into a tennis club.
“It never passed the first test for me, which was ‘Does the community think the park would be improved?’ And that was a resounding no from the community; they didn’t see this as a park improvement,” said Mayor Frank Leonard.
John Miller, who says he is imminently ending his tenure as president of the Clay Court Society, doesn’t believe that argument. He says it was a vocal minority that swayed council.
“Most councillors voted how they believed their constituents felt about the matter. … I don’t believe that that is a majority opinion; it was just the opinion of most people who showed up and spoke at the meetings,” he said. “I believe they did what they thought was best for their political careers.”
Miller says he accepts the council decision, but he’s frustrated that he had to spend so much time and money to get to this point.
“I think the process for things like this has to be completely reworked, because I can’t imagine important citizens’ initiatives going forward the way things currently are,” he said. “And I don’t know why anyone would want to put the time and effort to do something like this under the current formats of how these decisions are made.”
Leonard says he agrees that there’s certainly room for improvement in the way these proposals get vetted by Saanich and the community.
“Our management have said that they’re going to take a debrief on this and look for ways in which it doesn’t have to come along this far before getting an indication as to whether it should proceed,” he said. “We want to be supportive of volunteers in our community who want to make improvements, but at the same time we need to have a bit more of a filter as to how far things have to go before you have an opportunity to say, ‘This just isn’t going to work.’”
While Haddon’s rejoicing the fact that the idea of clay courts are now history, he and fellow Saanich residents are looking to the future of Cedar Hill Park.
“There has to be some kind of vision for this park,” he said, referencing a number of speakers who offered up suggestions to council on other uses for the site, as opposed to tennis courts, including playgrounds, community gardens and restoring it to its natural state as a wetland for Bowker Creek.
Haddon is in the process of launching a Friends of Cedar Hill Park Society, expected to be formalized later this month. He anticipates the society will work mainly on maintaining the park, but also planning for the future of the park.
“We need a long-term plan so that we know that we can lay out what this piece of parkland represents, both now and for the future,” he said.
Miller says the biggest thing he got out of the lengthy public process is that there is an appetite for clay courts in the Greater Victoria tennis community.
The Clay Court Society had already raised more than $200,000 in membership fees, Miller said. That money will all be returned.