North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr, here standing near the Sandown lands, says council may end up striking a lease deal with none, one, or both of the two final proponents. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

North Saanich whittles down search for farmland operator to two

Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture and coalition represented by John Upward make final cut

The future of agricultural lands once used for horse racing is becoming clearer but remains complex after North Saanich councillors narrowed the options before them.

North Saanich staff are now awaiting additional details from two potential operators of the so-called Sandown lands: the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture and a coalition of interests represented by John Upward that includes Gobind Farms but also non-farming interests. Their respective proposals will receive additional scrutiny after councillors held not one, but two meetings on Oct. 28 to chart the future of the Sandown lands.

North Saanich owns the large bulk of the former Sandown Race Track, but not all of its 83 acres lie within the 95-acre foot print of the former track after the Agricultural Land Commission signed off on a land swap. Work to restore the land for agriculture was “substantially complete” by March 2019.

North Saanich has been working on a plan for the land since 2018 after assuming ownership in 2017 and following public consultations dating back to 2016 and 2015 in favour of agricultural use, some five years after the previous owners had announced that their racing business was no longer viable.

RELATED: North Saanich extends search for Sandown operator after only one credible proposal

RELATED: North Saanich looks for operator for Sandown lands

Mayor Geoff Orr said those reports may result in North Saanich signing a long-term lease with none, one, or perhaps both proponents.

“There are a lot of elements to this, and this is why we are struggling a little bit with it,” he said.

Orr said one element concerns the financial investment from the municipality.

“The two are quite different, in that one has less investment over time — there is still some — and that is the Upward proposal,” he said. “They don’t satisfy as many of the District objectives, which we have been carrying forward over all of these years with respect to the vision for the property.”

Turning to the proposal from the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, it “satisfies many more of those District objectives,” said Orr. “However, it comes with a higher investment.”

Another question concerns the proponents’ willingness to take some but not all of the land for their lease, said Orr, after pointing out that of the 83 acres, 50 to 60 acres are suitable for cultivation.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see what they come back with in that regard,” he said.

Councillors faced eight options when they met on Oct. 28, first as committee-of-the-whole, then as regular council: five remaining applications from various parties, as well as three other options: sell the land; retain the land for the next five years, and partner with the Capital Regional District in the development of foodlands trust.

After considerable back-and-forth, councillors voted narrowly to ask for additional information from the two remaining proponents, while eliminating the three remaining applications from would-be-operators. Councillors also eliminated the option of selling the land.

The door, however, remains open on North Saanich partnering with the CRD in some form or retaining the land for itself. It is not clear when staff will return with additional information about both proponents.

“We may see something back to us before Christmas, but it is likely it may shift into [early 2020],” Orr said.


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