Provincial Capital Commission land in Langford and View Royal

Public land on the chopping block?

The B.C. government is keeping tight-lipped about which public properties it intends to sell.

The B.C. government is keeping tight-lipped about which properties it intends to sell to help reverse the deficit budget presented this week.

“I come from a real estate investment background, and the last thing you want to show your hand on the properties you’re going to be selling,” said Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.

Falcon would only identify a parking lot on the west side of Menzies street across from the B.C. legislature among the Victoria area properties.

“This is almost three acres of land that’s sitting there being used for staff to park. We can have a development take place there, with underground parking so staff can still park, but also get the benefit of all the construction jobs.”

The Provincial Capital Commission developed its own list of surplus properties between 2003 and 2005, by order of former premier Gordon Campbell.

PCC board chair Bill Wellburn said he can’t share the list, but was able to give a sense for the board’s priorities. Crystal Garden, the CPR Terminal Building and the Tourist Information building on Wharf Street are all iconic, revenue-generating assets, he said.

St. Ann’s Academy, while iconic, does not generate revenue, he said.

The PCC also owns the waterfront parking lot down from Wharf Street, beside Wharfside Seafood Grille. Wellburn said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if this underutilized property is listed for sale.

Many other lesser known, undeveloped PCC properties hug the TransCanada Highway in Langford and the Galloping Goose Trail in View Royal.

For instance, the PCC owns a square block of forest on the west side of the Trans-Canada, indistinguishable from neighbouring Mill Hill regional park. The new Victoria Bowmen archery field in View Royal is on PCC land near Watkiss Way and Burnside Road.

The PCC also owns much of the forested property on Skirt Mountain abutting the highway from Goldstream Park into Langford. The South Skirt Mountain residential development is planned for the forest area above these PCC lands.

The priority is to retain these green corridors when they can been seen from the road, Wellburn said. Many, however, extend over a hill and beyond the sight lines of drivers.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he added, not to open these up to development opportunities.

The PCC website notes these undeveloped properties “preserve the existing trail system and the natural beauty of the viewscapes along the highway approaches to the Capital.”

Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan (NDP) argues selling off public assets to boost revenues is bad pubic policy, and called it a government operating in “panic mode.”

Funds from lands and buildings sold should be reinvested back into the PCC, he said, and not flow into government general revenue. He suspects the government is seeking to dismantle the PCC, an organization entrusted with the stewardship of iconic landmarks in Victoria.

“The whole process is about selling off the cutlery to pay for current bills,” Horgan said. “Selling off land over 12 months to meet short-term budget is a fire-sale.

“In the Legislature Falcon said there is a long-term plan for 12 months, well in 12 months there is an election.”

–with files from Tom Fletcher and Edward Hill