A local advocacy group praises Saanich’s conditional purchase of a land deemed surplus by BC Hydro.
Saanich announced Jan. 30 the agreement to purchase a 2.2-hectare parcel of land between Kings Road and Haultain Street for $5.5 million from BC Hydro.
Bruce Kennedy from the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria said the organization remains concerned about council’s reluctance to deal with the municipality’s infrastructure.
“That said, it’s rare that a large parcel of land is available and so we commend council for listening to the community and looking for a creative way to pay the $5.5 million bill,” said Kennedy.
Saanich’s announcement marks a major turning point in the history of the property. BC Hydro has owned the property since 1958 and recently determined it is surplus to its needs. It offered the land to the provincial government, Crown agencies and local First Nations, before Saanich accepted the opportunity to purchase it following a community campaign to turn the land into a public park.
Saanich, for its part, has not yet announced its plans for the land. Mayor Fred Haynes said decisions about land use – including the possibility of park or development use – will be made in the future, mostly based on the ability to raise $2.75 million.
“If Saanich council is unable to raise this amount to offset the incurred debt, Saanich intends to dispose of a portion of the property to recuperate some of the cost,” said spokesperson Kelsie McLeod.
Potential funding sources include other local governments, community associations and organizations and residents, with more information coming forward at a later date.
Kennedy cited these aspects in his analysis. “At this point it’s important to remember it’s just land and may or may not become a park, with any added benefit of improving the quality of life and the environment for its residents,” he said.
“In our view defraying the cost for taxpayers by using a portion of the land for social or student housing is an option that should be looked at closely,” he said. Saanich, he added, could also review its assets to ease the pain for taxpayers.
“The CRD has in the past purchased land for parks, so an urban park should also be a realistic option,” he said.
Kennedy said he is not sure though that other municipalities will help Saanich. “Asking Oak Bay and the City of Victoria for tax dollars will be a non-starter with its residents,” he said.
Saanich will consider a financial plan amendment to borrow $4 million toward the purchase price, with the other $1.5 million coming from reserve funds.
“Council has understandably discussed the purchase of this property to date through in-camera sessions,” said Kennedy. “Grumpy Taxpayer$ urges council to rise and report on those previous sessions, and to…show transparency on the project.”