A group of residents along Marsett Place in Saanich remain adamant that the former Royal Oak Golf Course that they live next to be left as a park, if not a farm.
“We want it in the [Agricultural Land Reserve] for many reasons,” said Roger Graham, who lives on Marsett. “We view the ALR seriously, for food security, and believe this land should be preserved.”
The current owners of the 27-acre property – 23 of which are in the ALR – have submitted an application to the District of Saanich to recommend the Agricultural Land Commission remove it from the ALR so it can be pursued for development purposes. Word is the application could come before Saanich council before the Oct. 20 election.
"If it was up to former ALC chair and mayor of Saanich Frank Leonard the former golf course would stay within the ALR zoning, he said" – Former Royal Oak golf course submitted for ALR removal – https://t.co/geC9HA0QqJ #bclocalnews #munipoli
— Frank Leonard (@frank_leonard) July 31, 2018
Another Marsett resident, Donna Cino, started an online petition that now has 1,100 signatures to support the property staying in the ALR and said there is an overwhelming opposition in the neighbourhood to taking the property out of the ALR.
Cino remembers the dairy farm that preceded the Royal Oak Golf Course from her youth.
“ALR benefits go beyond farming, it includes biodiversity and the grounds of the golf course are recovering with flora, such as the camas coming back, and with wildlife,” Cino said.
Numbered company 1122590 B.C. Ltd. purchased the property for a reported $3.5 million in 2017, which includes local figure Denis Mamic. The company hired Ross Blackwell of the Cowichan Valley to assess the agricultural ability of the land.
Blackwell said not only is the soil “heavily cemented” but it’s not ideal to farm land immediately adjacent to residential density.
“Situationally, it’s a poor place to do agriculture,” Blackwell said.
Anyone farming there would anticipate theft, trespassing, damage and neighbourhood complaints about noises and smells, he added. “Farmers have a hard time dealing with these items.”
By cemented, Blackwell is referring to the dense, binding nature of the soil, not that it has actual cement in it. The golf course had a tremendous amount of fill, much of which he understands came from when the Royal Oak shopping centre was excavated.
“The land has exposed rock out-cropping that cuts the property up into chunks and disconnected bits which is hard to farm,” Blackwell said. “Even discounting the quality of the soil, once you combine the things with the constraints to agricultural suitability and it’s a poor piece of land for agricultural ability, that’s the finding of the report.
“Put it this way… if someone came to the ALR and wanted to include it, what’s the likelihood they’d say yes? I’d say unlikely due to the above reasons. It’s not part of a farming area, it’s part of an urban growth area.”
In fact, the old golf course is one of a few ALR plots remaining that were noted in the 2001 Royal Oak local area plan as isolated from other ALR in Saanich.
That includes the land that houses Wildwood Outdoor Living (formerly Cannor Nursery), which evolved from farm, to farmgate, to nursery to nursery/outdoor living store, and no longer “reflects” ALR usage. Saanich recognized that plot for future ALR removal as far back as 1993.
In 1989, the land housing Saanich Commonwealth Place, which borders the golf course, was also removed from ALR.
Despite Blackwell’s report the ALC has shown, at least recently, little interest in releasing properties from the ALR, though each property is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.