Metchosin residents alarmed over development plans for Boys and Girls Club site

A proposal to carve a subdivision out of almost half a Metchosin property owned by the Boys and Girls Club has left the mayor and residents alarmed and feeling betrayed.

The non-profit organization purchased the 98-acre property from the province in 2004 on the premise that the land would remain untouched and be used entirely for youth camps and programs.

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The Boys and Girls Club of Victoria is now considering the development of a 40-acre portion. The area is already zoned for that purpose and Mayor John Ranns has said in the past that a subdivision proposal can bypass council and go directly to the municipality’s chief administration officer for approval.

Ranns did not immediately return calls, but told other media that he’s “quite pissed off.”

Metchosin resident Jay Shukin called the subdivision plan a “big, big disappointment,” adding the club has been given $300,000 in property-tax exemptions from the municipality over the last 10 years.

“These lands were originally obtained from the provincial government under very favourable terms. When the transfer of Crown land occurred, it was perceived by local residents that these lands would be kept for an enduring public benefit, specifically, outdoor youth recreation and education programs.”

Shukin said much of the land in question is forested and a pond contains Western painted turtles.

Requests for information and interviews from the local and provincial Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada organizations were directed to a Victoria commercial real estate broker, Griffin Lewis, a managing broker and partner at Devoncore.

In an emailed response to a request for information, Griffin said: “The B&GC board and senior management have decided (based upon advice from me) that they will have no comment or discussions about their property until after the subdivision application and process is complete.

“It’s best to wait until all the variables and requirements from the district are understood before they can speak to what their plans are.”

Bev Bacon, who lives near the 98-acre property, found it odd that the non-profit groups were using a real estate broker as a spokesperson on the issue.

“Something’s going on and the people of Metchosin should be in the picture here … we should know what’s going on,” said Bacon. “The district has the right to know. We’ve been paying their tax bills for 17 years.”

The Boys and Girls Club was initially loaned the property from the province in 1984 and exercised an option to purchase it in 2004 without any conditions. Bacon said in hindsight, that was a mistake on the part of the B.C. Liberals, who were in government at the time. She believes the group should respect the spirit of the deal and keep the property intact for the benefit of youth.

“If they aren’t going to protect it, then they should sell it to someone who will and go back to the city,” she said.

The club paid off its mortgage on the property in 2011 via fundraising and donations.

A review of the organization’s most recent statements does not indicate that the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria is in any financial difficulties. It receives funding from the federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as the United Way, the community gaming grant and donations from private businesses and individuals.

Shukin said the club has the right to pursue a subdivision or sale of the land, but noted the organization has “enjoyed significant financial support from provincial and local governments.”

“We’re looking to them to engage with the community more broadly, to consider alternatives to losing this unique natural area to a residential subdivision.”

He said there is frustration that numerous calls to Boys and Girls Club representatives have not been returned. “Our efforts to engage in constructive discussion have essentially been met with silence.”

Shukin is contacting MLA Mitzi Dean, the minister of children and family development and a resident of Metchosin, in hopes she can kickstart dialogue between residents and the Boys and Girls Club.

Dean did not immediately reply to an email request for comment.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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