Saanich moves to lock in Panama Flats as farmland

The first of many formal discussions on the future of Panama Flats was held Monday night

The first of many formal discussions on the future of Panama Flats was held Monday night, as Saanich council looks at increasing its footprint in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Currently 21 acres of the 66-acre site is protected, but Saanich staff sought council approval to add up to another 35 acres to the ALR.

“The reason for buying it was floodplain (for the Colquitz River) and agricultural land,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard before the meeting.

“It wasn’t to create a soccer field – not that anyone’s suggesting it. I want to make sure it’s not an option, though. There’s activities that might be nice to have, but I wouldn’t want to be tempted to stray from the principles of our floodplain and agricultural land that are established.”

Saanich’s planning supervisor Neil Findlow advised that putting new land in the ALR, before a plan for Panama Flats is established, could potentially prove problematic.

“Once the land is included into the Agricultural Land Reserve, land use is restricted, and amendments to Agricultural Land Reserve boundaries can be both difficult and time consuming,” he wrote.

The lack of a plan isn’t a major deterrent, Leonard said. While that may be true, and public consultation on the long-term plan has yet to begin, he said whatever uses for the land are ultimately determined, they won’t be destructive or invasive.

“It might be trails leading to an allotment garden (or the like),” he said. “You do the plan based on the ALR. You don’t compromise agricultural land because you think you have a parks and rec plan.”

Findlow’s recommendation to council was to provide a clear idea to staff just how much of the land should be part of an application to be included in the ALR.

Saanich announced a $2.4-million deal to purchase Panama Flats from Island Berry Co. in February 2011.

Public consultation will happen later this year, and will allow residents to provide input on how exactly the newly acquired Saanich land will be used.

kslavin@saanichnews.com