Saanich council ditches ALR application to move forward with Panama Flats plan

Saanich council has voted to abandon an application to ­transfer part of Panama Flats to the Agricultural Land Reserve, allowing the district to move forward with other plans for the multi-use park that were on hold.

The district acquired the 25-hectare area, popular for birdwatching and walking, in 2011 to provide flood plain ­management, create new trails and provide a place to grow food.

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Three years later, council endorsed a plan for the flats, with the first step to move 14.5 hectares to the Agricultural Land Reserve. The land is adjacent to an 8.5-hectare portion of the flats that is already part of the ALR.

The application was rejected, while a second application made in 2019 was referred back to council for review.

At Monday’s meeting, however, councillors unanimously voted to abandon the ALR application.

Coun. Judy Brownofff, who was on council at the time the plan was created, said the move means the district can begin work on other plans for the park.

Staff has been asked to report back on how they can move forward with other components of the concept plan, including changes to the Colquitz River to improve floodplain ­function, ­restoration of a Garry oak ecosystem, creating a buffer between bird habitat and trails, upgrades to existing trails and the creation of new walking paths.

Coun. Nathalie Chambers said she was pleased with council’s decision to maintain control of the land, instead of transferring it to the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve.

Moving the land into the ALR would have allowed conventional farming activities that are not supported by the community, she said.

“I’m absolutely thrilled we’ve come to this decision that both protects the ecological and ­agricultural benefits and the recreational,” she said.

Residents of the area are also happy to see the district drop the application and move ­forward with upgrades to the park, said Hollis Hodson, president of the Residents Association of Strawberry Vale, Marigold and Glanford.

The association has been opposed to moving the land into the ALR since the area was purchased.

“We’re feeling like this is a big accomplishment,” Hodson said, adding her email inbox was flooded with messages from happy residents.

Council also voted to explore options for small-scale food production in Panama Flats.

The district will check in with residents to identify needed updates to the concept plan before moving forward with changes.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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