Public input shows opposition to a proposal by North Saanich for a new library near Panorama Recreation Centre.
As North Saanich councillors prepare for tonight’s public hearing, submissions from the public available on the municipality’s website show opposing opinions outweighing supporting opinions by a factor of 9-1 with three letters in favour, the rest opposed. By way of background, Monday’s public hearing will consider two related items: the municipality’s application to exclude almost 16 acres of the Panorama Recreation Centre lot from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and proposed changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) as required for the proposed exclusion.
The municipality has long proposed building a library on a portion of the recreation centre site, plans that suffered a setback in the spring of 2019 when the ALC rejected the municipality’s application for non-farm use on the site. But in that ruling, the commission also signalled its willingness to consider an exclusion application. Previous plans had identified the northwest corner (the proposed exclusion site) of the current recreation centre as the preferred location for the new library.
If the ALC approves the exclusion following Monday’s public hearing, the municipality would then be able to subdivide the lot from the parent lot, thereby allowing the establishment of the library on a separate, transferable title of land.
The proposed OCP amendments in turn would increase the flexibility of the municipality on the site for what it calls “future recreational or cultural development,” language that gives some the municipality some wiggle room about future uses.
Opponents, for their part, have denounced the proposed exclusion as “frivolous” and “irresponsible” against the backdrop of limited ALR land as Chris Connor put it. “It may not be used for it right now in this decade, but its in the ALR for a reason,” he said in his letter.
Others have expressed the fear that development of the site would lead to the loss of trees and impact the nearby Eric Sherwood Trial running from Forest Park Drive south along the western portion of the property to East Saanich Road at the property’s southeastern corner. The short but popular trail bears the name of North Saanich’s former mayor Eric Sherwood, “a driving force for the creation of the Panorama Recreation Centre,” as described by Gordon and Gillian Gummer.
Many of the letter writers also questioned why North Saanich is pushing for a new library at the location while it is already contributing towards the library it shares with Sidney near that municipality’s downtown core.
“Sidney/North Saanich library already serves us very well,” said Patricia Stockdill. “We do not require any more duplication of services.”
Others questioned the very need for a physical repository of reading material. “Why spend money to build a brand new library when the world is going digital?” asks John Berger, who argues that the municipality should instead invest more resources into improving traffic safety in the area near Kelset Elementary School.
“The three-way stop at the bottom of Forest Park and East Saanich desperately needs a flashing red light in the middle of the intersection,” he said. “I’ve witnessed so many drivers running these stop signs and causing near fatal accidents with pedestrians.”
But councillors also received, albeit far fewer, letters of support from residents.
“As a North Saanich resident, I feel that this would be a great asset to our community and that the services offered would by used by a variety of residents,” said Carolyn Moeller. “I feel that adding the library to the existing facility will provide ideal access for all members of the community. This new library will provide all citizens with a wide range of benefits whether you are checking out books, using it for a quiet place to study or to use other services like special programming or internet access. This will also create quality jobs within our community.”
Last month, Sidney councillors also passed a motion that speaks of “no concern” about the project from the municipality’s perspective following a report in which Sidney staff writes that the growing population of Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula “would benefit from expanded community services, which are co-located with existing and well-established community uses.” Any future library, in other words, would not duplicate existing services as far as Sidney is concerned, thereby bolstering the internal case for the project.
The provincial ministry of agriculture also appears to have given the project its tacit blessing. Reed Bailey, a land use planner with the ministry, notes that proposed OCP amendments appear to be crafted specifically for the parcel in trying to dispel fears that they would undermine protection, writing that the ministry “believes that this will ultimately not have a significant impact on agricultural lands within the District.”
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