Wednesday, December 02, 2015

What to do with Watkiss Way?

Watkiss way before the logging started
Over the last weeks we have seen the property on Watkiss way logged in perpetration for use for agriculture and this has upset a lot of people.   I can understand being upset because the property has been left to its own devices by the owners for a long time and it has become a defacto public natural area for everyone to enjoy but at the end of day it is privately owned agricultural land.

Some people are blaming the council for the cutting of the trees because they rejected  it as a site to consider for a sewage treatment plant.  People seem to think that because the owner did not get his site forwarded he is now retaliating to make council look bad by cutting all the trees but I do not think this is the case because the owner likely understood that there was very little chance of the lot being used.

In the early summer the owner site proposed the site to be used for a sewage treatment facility.   The proposal was brought to Saanich council for consideration to add to the mix of sites forwarded to the CRD but not accepted by them for a number of reasons:
Another view of the property before timber harvesting

  • Technically the site was less than ideal according to some engineering staff I spoke with, many other sites are better suited technically 
  • The site is on ALR lands and this does not allow for a sewage waste treatment facility.  Since the advent of the ALR only a very small amount of it has been removed in rural Saanich.  An application to remove seems unlikely to succeed.  
  • The property is not zoned for a sewage treatment.  The OCP and Local Area Plan clearly do not consider this property as one that is suited for an industrial use and rezoning it as such would be to completely ignore both plans.
  • It is outside of the Urban Containment Boundary.  Since the time of Hugh Curtis as mayor 50 years ago Saanich has worked hard to try and maintain the Urban Containment Boundary.  I can not think of a similar industrial like change outside of the UCB in Saanich.
If it had been forwarded to the CRD it strikes me as very unlikely this property would make the first cut let alone be the site chosen.   It is also not right to forward the site for consideration while it is still in the ALR.   If council were to have offered this as a location it could be argued they are de facto supporting the removal of the property from the ALR.   I do not believe there was any realistic chance that this property would ever been considered for the sewage treatment plant.

This the boundaries of the property in question
Map courtesy of Watkiss Way Park website
The other use proposed has been to make the Watkiss Way property a natural park.  This is appealing to many people but there are a couple of major impediments
  • The owner has to be willing to sell the property and I do not believe there is any interest on his part in doing.   Saanich has a long time policy of not using expropriation unless absolutely required such as widening a road right of way.
  • If the owner were willing to buy the property Saanich would have to come up with something on the order of $2,000,000 to $2,800,000 to purchase it.  The last major park purchase was Panama Flats in 2011 for $2,400,000.   Saanich could afford this but it is a significant expenditure for the municipality and Saanich needs to spend more on existing natural parks to help restore the ecosystems before buying more land
  • The property would no longer be available for agriculture.  Given the general concerns about food security, I have trouble seeing how a proposing a new park would generally fly with the public.   There are a number of natural parks right in the area already.
When it comes to the natural values of the area, I am not convinced that this property is most important one for Saanich to purchase.   The forest is a young second growth forest with trees that are barely worth harvesting.  There are numerous other ones in rural Saanich that are more important to protect.  Properties around Prospect Lake or Maltby Lake come to mind.  The Prospect Lake Golf Course is one such property and it would not be radically more expensive than Watkiss Way.

Before buying a property like this Saanich should have a clear idea on how much money it will use for park acquisition and where this should happen.   Pressure from one group while a property is in crisis is not a good reason to spend a lot of money.  The reality is that there is no way Saanich can consider every deserving property.   The way forward is a clear long term plan and policy of which properties to buy and how it will be funded.
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