Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard stands in Panama Hill Park which overlooks Panama Flats. The municipality purchased the land in 2011. Community consultation on the future use of the property continues next week.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard stands in Panama Hill Park which overlooks Panama Flats. The municipality purchased the land in 2011. Community consultation on the future use of the property continues next week.

Panama Flats plan going public to Saanich residents

Saanich looks to secure area's historic agricultural, recreation and floodplain uses

The future of Panama Flats is still in the air, but one thing’s certain: Saanich plans to leave no stone unturned in determining the opportunities presented by the massive site.

A big part of the idea-gathering stage for the project will come from public consultation.

“I have a lot of confidence that if you get input from a lot of voices that ultimately good ideas will prevail over bad ideas,” Mayor Frank Leonard said. “I really think this will lead to the best outcome for Panama Flats.”

As of Wednesday (Oct. 23), Saanich residents can view the municipality’s draft concept plan for the site online. An open house is also planned for that day to allow residents to learn more and provide input.

“The land is an asset for generations, so we want to take our time and do it right,” Leonard said. Many suggestions, including his own, have been submitted for the property, he added. “We’ll get public input and build a master plan for the site. Children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will appreciate it if we do it right.”

Rae Roer, Saanich’s manager of parks, says none of the ideas presented in the concept plan should come as a surprise to residents. The draft proposal offers short- and long-term visions on such topics as agriculture, flood plain management, the natural environment, parks and trails and recreation opportunities.

“The concept is exploring ways that we can do some creek and riparian area restoration, formalize and enhance some trails within the park area, and, of course, addressing the stormwater management interests,” Roer said. “Everything we’re doing is still at a conceptual level. Once we have public input and agreement to the concepts, the next stages would be a detailed design.”

The municipality is taking a page from the history books in helping guide the direction of the 62-acre property, he said.

“I don’t think there’s going to be substantial visual changes. It will kind of look and feel very much like it has historically, back to the days when it was being farmed and a trail ran beside it.”

Saanich acquired the land in February 2011 with the intent to keep Panama Flats natural in perpetuity.

Saanich council has already determined that placing more of the site into the Agricultural Land Reserve would help secure its agricultural use.

“It would certainly put a more stringent test for any changes to the land-use in the future and that makes it more of a legacy: farmland will be farmed,” Leonard said.

How and by whom will be determined later, he added.

“Panama Flats is best known throughout our heritage as a farming site … How we accomplish that – lease it to one or two (farmers), or lease it to many through allotment gardens – we’ll have to hear some public input.”

Since the property was acquired, few changes have been made. Most recently some mowing and tilling was completed on the site.

The consultation process will help dictate longer-term plans, Roer said.

The open house runs from 4 to 8 p.m. at Northridge elementary, 4190 Carey Rd. The concept plan can be viewed and feedback provided online at tinyurl.com/LPN7DUD beginning Oct. 23.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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