The future of the closed Royal Oak Golf Club property is unknown now that it has changed hands and new owners are evaluating the quality of the land.
But worries that it might be developed prompted a neighbour to launch a petition to B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, calling for the 27-acre site to be saved as green space.
“At this stage, they really don’t have any specific plans,” said consultant Deane Strongitharm, speaking on behalf of the owners. “A good chunk of the land is in the ALR [Agricultural Land Reserve], which is a bit of an oddity because it is somewhat isolated.”
A land-reserve specialist has been hired to evaluate the land, he said. This will take several months.
The first thing that needs to be established is whether the land should be in the ALR and used for agriculture, Strongitharm said.
Preliminary work shows that the soil has been greatly disturbed and that some material had been brought to the site, he said. Until that work is finished, it is premature to start looking what might be done with the land.
The nine-hole golf course at 540 Marsett Pl. was closed in spring 2016 by the Cordero family, then the owners. An email to nearby residents said the course was not economically viable.
It noted that many Greater Victoria golf courses were in the same position and some had dropped green fees and membership rates. The Prospect Lake Golf Course closed in late 2015 after 41 years.
The Royal Oak property, with its clubhouse, sold for $3.5 million in August to 1122590 B.C. Ltd., according to B.C. government records. Company directors are Denis Mamic of Victoria and Dwayne Walbaum of Emerald Park, Sask.
Tsur Somerville, associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, said that because of changing preferences and demographic trends, fewer people are playing golf.
“One would think there would be excess golf courses at some point in time.”
The question, is what do you do with surplus golf courses?
“In B.C., there was period where golf courses were an acceptable ALR land use. So therefore, if it is still in the ALR, in theory, it should stay in the ALR and you could then convert it back to farmland as opposed to a golf course.”
He considered municipally owned golf courses that are not in the ALR, saying: “The municipal land is a resource. What is the best use of that resource?”
And when the idea of redeveloping a private course is raised, that is a case of public policy — in the form of the ALR — overlapping with private use, he said.
Donna Cino, who lives in a townhouse with her family on a site bordering the Royal Oak property, started a petition on Change.org, which has collected more than 420 names urging that the land not be rezoned.
Cino is convinced the owners want to develop housing.
If that happens, the impact on “our once rural area will be devastating,” her petition reads.
Wildlife, such as Steller’s jays, flickers, woodpeckers, eagles, deer and raccoons, is returning to the land, she said. The site features Garry oaks, camus and fawn lilies.
Other nearby developments are already underway, she said. If construction is permitted on the site, it would bring noise and disruption to the area, as well as increase congestion on already busy roads.
Marsha Henderson, president of the Royal Oak Community Association, said the organization has not taken a position on what it favours on the site.
The group would like to see “something that is accomplished with a high level of meaningful community engagement and respect for the Saanich Official Community Plan and Royal Oak Local Area Plan,” she said.
“That area is undergoing significant changes, with the golf course only one of several upcoming developments.”
A possible sale of the 131-acre Glen Meadows Golf and Country Club on the Saanich Peninsula was announced last summer, with the idea the deal would close in September. The Criddle family continues to own it.