A provincial body has given plans for a new library in North Saanich near the Panorama Recreation Centre a major boost.
The Agricultural Land Commission has approved North Saanich’s application to exclude 6.4 hectares (almost 16 acres) from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The property slated for exclusion lies in the northwest corner of the lot containing the Panorama Recreation Centre. With the exclusion, North Saanich can now subdivide the smaller lot from its parent lot, thereby allowing the establishment of a library on a separate, transferable title of land.
“This is good news,” said Mayor Geoff Orr of the ALR’s decision.
The public heard Monday that the municipality will now explore the possibility of bringing a “community facility with Vancouver Island Regional Library service” to the location. Staff have previously signalled an openness toward other options.
Previous plans had identified the northwest corner of the current recreation centre as the preferred location for a new library, which according to staff “would complement the existing community facilities on site and would be accessible to residents of North Saanich, Sidney, and Central Saanich,” as per an earlier report.
The ALC had rejected non-farm use of the site for a library in April 2019. But if the commission said no then, it also signalled that it could support an exclusion application, now a fait accompli.
The ALC said in its decision that the property “is not suitable for agricultural use due to its cumulative historical uses (45 years) and site coverage for community recreational use (buildings and parking lots).” Accordingly, there “is no agricultural rationale for the retention of the property in the ALR.”
A public hearing held in the summer revealed large public opposition (but also some support) for a new library, with critics expressing concern about the impact on the ALR among other points.
But the ALC appeared to reject that argument. The commission said in its ruling that “the majority of correspondence expressed concern regarding losing green space rather than agricultural land,” adding that “concerns regarding green space and planned development of the (property) would be more appropriately addressed by the (municipality).”
Council, including Coun. Brett Smyth who had previously opposed the exclusion application, voted to forward the ALC’s decision to staff with the subject now becoming part of council’s upcoming strategic planning session on Dec. 10 with the broader future of library services as shared with Sidney on the agenda.
While Smyth acknowledged his previous opposition, he said there is no further need for positioning.
“The residents will get a chance to weigh in on whatever might happen in the future,” he said.
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