North Saanich has a rare opportunity to reverse the usual course of development, and create farmland instead of paving it over. With careful planning, the district can make the most of it.
After 50 years of horse racing, the former Sandown track was sitting forlorn and unused as the grandstands gradually deteriorated. However, the district acquired it in 2017, with visions of doing something different with the property.
A 12-acre parcel along McDonald Park Road was carved out for commercial development, and Canadian Tire is already up and running there.
The rest of the 83-acre site has become a clean slate. The horse barns, the grandstand and the track are gone. Only the old tower for the finish-line camera remains, now festooned with cellphone transmitters.
The ground has been levelled and drainage improved. An agrologist will make recommendations on how to prepare the land for agriculture, including improving the soil and managing weeds.
The district is asking for expressions of interest, but it has some broad ideas. Some of the land could be leased to farmers, but that is just a taste of what could come. Other concepts from a group of residents include community orchards, allotment gardens, demonstration pollinator gardens, a farm-retail centre and a farm school.
The land could become a hub for farmers where they could collect their produce for sale to large vendors.
This is an opportunity that will never come again. The district is looking for expert advice, but residents should also weigh in with fresh ideas.
The Sandown lands could become an innovative focal point for North Saanich.