Metchosin council urges Boys and Girls Club to drop plan for land sale

Metchosin council is asking the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Victoria to withdraw its application to subdivide a portion of its 98-acre property, and to explore opportunities for preserving the land in its natural state.

The organization’s decision to carve off 40 acres of wooded and meadow­ ­property to sell on the open market in order to raise money for programs has ignited a firestorm of criticism in the rural community. An online petition against the sale had gathered more than 2,700 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

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The portion earmarked for sale is already zoned for a residential subdivision that would allow eight five-acre lots. The proposal can bypass council and go directly to the municipality’s chief administrative officer for approval. It isn’t immediately clear when that might happen.

In a letter to Boys & Girls Club Foundation president Rebecca Lang, Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said while subdivision of the property is permitted under the district’s land-use bylaw, council “feels strongly” that the property should remain as one parcel, protected by a covenant.

Ranns encouraged the club to explore opportunities for partnerships with the Metchosin Foundation, which works to protect and sustain natural habitats, and initiate steps toward the preservation of the 40-acre parcel and a pond on the ­property.

“The foundation would be willing to assist in developing and registering a customized conservation covenant for this property,” Ranns said. “These would be steps toward a solution in restoring the good reputation that the Boys and Girls Club has had with our community and beyond.

Metchosin has provided $210,020 in tax exemptions to the club over the past 17 years “with the understanding [the land] would be preserved for public benefit, specifically for outdoor youth recreation and education programs,” Ranns said, adding: “Council will now be looking at future tax exemptions through an entirely different lens.”

Jay Shukin, president of the Association for Protection of Rural Metchosin, noted that the Boys & Girls Club has so far only issued news releases stating its intentions.

“This is really the source of the ­problem: the club’s failure to discuss their plans more broadly underlies community residents’ reason for and disappointment with the decision,” said Shukin.

Lauren Bernardi and Samantha Jubinville-Mah, former Boys and Girls Club employees who started the online petition against subdividing the land, said they want the organization to work with the community on a plan for the land to be used for outdoor education.

They say the proposed application would divide a large pond in half, threaten habitat for the at-risk western painted turtle, sever a key wildlife corridor and endanger remnants of disappearing Garry oak meadows.

The property has not been listed for sale and there is no asking price as yet, although a commercial real estate company has been retained by the club.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria supports between 1,200 and 1,600 families a year at several locations across the region, providing everything from after-school care and drop-in centres to supports such as the Best Babies and Best Moms programs.

In recent years, the club said, ­adventure and summer camp options for children and youth in locations across the region have diversified and grown, and it has become increasingly difficult to attract children and youth to Metchosin’s outdoor adventure programs.

It said the Metchosin club is its only location that is no longer at capacity, “unlike our other programs that have ­considerable waitlists.”

“By selling a portion of our property, we can remain responsive and adaptive to these changing priorities across our communities,” Lang said in a statement last week. “The Foundation’s board of directors believes the eventual sale of this property will guarantee additional, relevant programs and supports for more children, youth and families across ­Southern Vancouver Island.”

The club acquired the property from the provincial government in 2004.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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