The long search for a new operator of lands once used for horse racing in North Saanich has come to an end.
The District of North Saanich and Circular Farm and Food: Vancouver Island have agreed in principle to lease terms for the Sandown Agricultural Lands.
The agreement — which requires final council ratification — would see Circular Farm supply a range of programming and services on 83 acres. Programs include community gardens and an incubator pilot program to support emerging farmers.
Jen Rashleigh, director of partner and community engagement for Circular Farm, said in a release that her organization sees the site as a place to “support and foster” future farmers while strengthening the local food supply and enhancing bio-diversity among other goals.
The agreement runs for 10 years with the municipality providing funding for the first three years, starting with $135,000 in 2020, followed by $125,000 each for 2021 and 2022.
The agreement concludes the municipality’s lengthy search for an operator of the lands, which formally passed into municipal hands in 2017. The complex transfer of the former horse track lands started in 2011.
The municipality officially started searching for an operator in the fall of 2019 when six interested parties submitted proposals. Other options before council included selling the lot or keeping it.
Mayor Geoff Orr referenced this history in his comments when he described the “transformation” of the former horse race track as a “complicated, challenging, rewarding, and visionary” process.
“Council looks forward to monitoring the progress of the many programs and initiatives contemplated by the Circular Farm Society as they work toward establishing the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture,” he said.
Circular Farm has not always enjoyed unanimous support around the council table and the community-at-large with critics having scrutinized the financial aspect of the bid.
Rebecca Penz, the municipality’s manager of communication, points to several provisions in the agreement that protect the municipality against financial claims by third parties.