With controversy swirling around a plan to build a community centre in John Phillips Memorial Park, Sooke council is asking staff for a report on lease details, the development permit process and options for more public input.
District staff released a report on Sept. 20 outlining three ways council could proceed with the project that will be built in a 1.9-acre portion of the park.
The options included asking staff to begin negotiating terms of the lease, carry out an assent vote, or abandon the project.
Instead, council opted for more information and community input.
“There are valid concerns coming from the community,” said Mayor Maja Tait. “We’re still at a point where we are receiving information, and we still need to decide on it.”
In July, the district announced that the Sooke Lions Club proposed building a multi-use community building on the south end of John Phillips Memorial Park.
Plans include building a two-storey structure to accommodate a daycare facility, a concession, a 300-person capacity hall, parking facilities, an outdoor stage for community events and an emergency reception centre.
Part of the plan includes the Sooke Lions Club selling a piece of property it owns at 2008 Murray Rd. to the district to build the community centre and receive a long-term lease at the park.
But as soon as the project was announced, many questioned why the district was using parkland for a community centre and whether other locations were more suitable. Those opposed to the project also asked why more information wasn’t available.
The Lions club plan is not a district-led project.
“The district as the landowner received a proposal from Lions, similar to when developers or other community groups want to progress a project,” Tait said.
“We’re keepers of the process and required (by provincial government legislation) to follow certain processes.”
As John Phillips Memorial Park is dedicated parkland, a lease cannot be signed without the approval of electors. Council held an alternate approval process (AAP).
Under the AAP, at least 10 per cent of qualified voters must register opposition. The park plan received a response of 9.13 per cent or 1,026 votes.
“The process as it stands now allows for much more community input,” said Coun. Tony St-Pierre. “This is not the end of community input.”
It’s been no secret over the last 16 years, the district has formulated plans for John Phillips Memorial Park. A new library, dog park, horseshoe pitches, community amenity building, bike park and many other amenities have been considered. Some projects went to other areas of town, while others remain in district plans.
In 2005, after the district acquired the parkland, public comment was sought, and a committee was struck to find out what Sooke residents wanted to do with John Phillips Memorial Park. They produced a visioning document that has been ratified several times over by preceding councils.
“(John Phillips Memorial Park) is not meant as a passive park. It’s not what the future needs,” said St-Pierre.
“People are talking about biodiversity. It used to be a golf course, and meanwhile, we have houses all around (the park) and a deep need for walkable amenities. This is not about reducing biodiversity. This is a necessity for our future.
“This park could be so much more, and it’s up to the community.”
It was a sentiment echoed by most members of council, including Tait and Coun. Dana Lajeunesse.
“We need to grow up as a community and have some more modern facilities,” Lajeunesse said.