Metchosin is throwing everything it has against the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria in an effort to stop the organization’s plans to subdivide a portion of its pastoral property into residential lots.
The district’s council in a special meeting last week gave first and second readings to an amendment of its land-use bylaw that is specific to the 98-hectare property. If passed after a public hearing on March 15, it would restrict the Boys and Girls Club to subdividing a 40-acre portion of the property to just one lot, and not the eight five-acre residential pieces allowed under the current bylaw.
And Metchosin residents are backing their council, taking to the road near the property on Sunday for a protest that drew dozens of people who want the land to stay untouched. A petition started by former Boys and Girls Club program directors against the subdivision attracted just over 4,000 signatures.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Victoria Foundation, which owns the land, said it is “deeply disappointed” in the sudden and unanimous decision by Metchosin council to fast track a bylaw that would “devalue” its land.
The club said it was not directly contacted about the special meeting last Wednesday and sent its lawyer to address council.
“We have done our utmost to support our community and remain good neighbours, but we feel blindsided,” said foundation board spokesman Wayne Jensen.
Jensen said the zoning change will reduce the amount of time available for potential purchasers, community groups and municipal or regional governments that have already expressed interest in preserving the land for conservation.
“We had previously stated that a future sale was a long way from being realized, thereby allowing sufficient time for interested parties to consider their purchasing options, while preserving the value of the land,” Jensen said.
The Boys and Girls Club operated nature, wilderness and educational programs on the 98-acre property after acquiring the land in 2004 for market value from the provincial government.
But changes to young offender laws and youth needs have significantly changed programming for the organization. It says selling a 40-acre parcel of the property is essential to meet the challenges of today’s children, youth and families, and proceeds from the land sale to developers will finance new programs across southern Vancouver Island.
“The eventual sale of this property will ensure more services for more young people,” Jensen said.
The club’s lawyer, John Alexander, told Metchosin council that its move was “a targeted down-zoning, targeting one property and one owner.”
“I draw that distinction because it is clearly not applying to similarly rural zoned, large parcels, which similarly have the same subdivision potential as this property,” he said.
The property is currently split zoned — institutional over 58 acres and rural over 40 acres. The rural designation allows for lot sizes of five acres.
Alexander said the revised bylaw will force the club’s hand.
“An eight-lot subdivision plan [is] ready to go … that will be on the approving officer’s desk if not before the end of the week, absolutely certainly before you adopt this bylaw, and the club will have no option but to proceed that way because this zoning bylaw precludes all the other discussion and creates an obligation on the directors of the club in the interest of their members to try to preserve the value that is in the land.”
Alexander said as long as the subdivision application is filed and the fees are paid prior to the adoption of the bylaw, the club has one year to complete the subdivision.
“If you adopt this bylaw on April 1, all of that work has got to be done before next winter … and that’s not the direction the club wants to go. The club is not a developer. They don’t want to be in the subdivision building business. But their hand will be forced.”
Jay Shukin, who heads the Association for the Protection of Rural Metchosin, said council’s report on the bylaw change noted a 2006 submission from the club stating that it was the organization’s intention to pursue a conservation covenant for the endangered Garry oak/arbutus ridge on the property to “maintain the unique habitat for wildlife observation and nature studies in perpetuity.”
The covenant, however, was never completed.
Shukin’s group said the Boys and Girls Club has received more than $217,000 in tax exemptions over the years.
He said his group “applauds council for the taking this bold move” to protect rural Metchosin. “With land values and current development pressures being what they are, we believe it is highly unrealistic to think that the 40-acre parcel will be sold to a party that will want the natural values preserved for youth programming,” he said.