The Sandown racetrack has been vacant for years and has been used as a water detention area by the District of North Saanich. The municipality has approved spending $569,000 to allow the developer to complete drainage plans on the land. (File)

Sandown reclamation plan will cost North Saanich $569,000

District approves paying for its impact on water flows to and from the former horse racing track

North Saanich will pay $569,000 for site improvements to deal with water drainage onto the former Sandown horse racing track and help clear the way for the transfer of 83 acres of land to the District as agricultural property.

The final vote on whether to pay for ditches, berms, culverts and other drainage infrastructure came down to a 4-3 split at the council table during a special meeting Oct. 19. The meeting was held after councillors voted to delay a decision from their Oct. 16 regular council meeting, in order to get more information.

At issue for some of the District councillors was the perceived benefit the work would provide to Platform Properties and the Randall family, owners of the Sandown property, as well as what they considered to be a last-minute request for the money.

Platform is developing 12 acres of the site along McDonald Park Road as a commercial area, the first tenant of which is Canadian Tire. The rest of the property – 83 acres – is to be transferred by the owners to the District for use as agricultural land. In engineering work commissioned by Platform, it was determined that North Saanich uses Sandown as a water detention area, serving as overflow catchment from District infrastructure — notably their McDonald Park Road drain — during times of large storm events.

The District stated in a media release this week that the information about drainage at the Sandown property was unexpected. Mayor Alice Finall said details about the impact of District stormwater drainage to and from the Sandown property was only made clear in engineering work completed at the end of September by the proponent — information that came to council in early October after staff reviewed the September report.

Finall added the District was given legal advice on the municipality’s possible liability “and consequences” for “failing to address its responsibility for flooding of adjacent lands.”

The engineering work was done as part of conditions set out by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that had to be met prior to 12 acres of the property being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the rest transferred to the District. The ALC’s deadline for plans to be in place to reclaim the Sandown property and addresses drainage issues, is Nov. 14 — after having been extended one year ago.

Finall said in an interview that the water drainage issue is about the District’s impact on flooding on the Sandown property. Platform Properties, she noted, has addressed its own impact on water flows in its development plans for the 12 acres. This money, she said, will pay for better controls of water flowing from District infrastructure to Sandown and is part of the site’s overall reclamation plan. The District approved the overall plan on Oct. 16.

Councillors and members of the public who expressed concern about the expense, pointed to past reports and drainage work done in early 2000 and again in 2009, stating the District had to have known of this impact to the Sandown property.

A staff report to council from Oct. 12 shows that in 2000, the District started a drain upgrade at McDonald Park Road but only got as far as the first phase (completed in 2009) after it cost more than twice the estimated cost. The remaining four phases to improve pipes and drainage capacity were never completed. In its engineering work done for Platform Properties, Kerr Wood Leidal estimated the cost of completing that upgrade at $2.3 million — four times the 2000 estimated cost by the District.

In an Oct. 11 letter to the municipality, Platform Properties notes that cost was too high and chose an alternative plan to address the drainage issues. That revision, they stated, was accepted by the ALC and estimated to cost around $634,000. That work, they stated, will allow North Saanich to “defer downstream improvements until such time as the District elects to proceed, and reduce the scope to an estimated $1.775 million …”

Councillor Geoff Orr said the deadlines presented to council — the deadline for Platform Properties to meet conditions laid out by the ALC prior to their allowing the land to be removed from the ALR and Platform’s own deadline with Canadian Tire’s development plan — made this request come as a surprise. Orr called it an “untenable situation”, especially since North Saanich knew that was a problem for years.

Residents who spoke during the Oct. 19 special meeting said they were concerned about the cost — and that it could possibly go up by the time the developer plans to do the work in 2018. They asked the District to get assurances that the cost would remain the same.

Finall said the proponent has told the District they will cover any overage beyond the District’s $569,000. In addressing public concerns, she added taxpayers “will always be on the hook for drainage in the District.”

Finall added the ALC requires the drainage issue to be dealt with, by having a plan in place, in order for the proponent to meet the November deadline. She said, too, that the District bears some liability in the matter if the municipality does not meet its contractual obligations with the land owners in the deal to split Sandown into commercial and agricultural sections.

Andrew Sinclair with Platform Properties was at the Oct. 19 meeting and told council “we are out of time.”

“We’re trying … to move this forward. Every day we lose, it’s a real problem for us.”

After a maze of motions which went nowhere, council went behind closed doors to hear legal advice from municipal lawyers, relayed through District staff. When they emerged, they quickly voted to spend the money, with councillors Orr, Murray Wiesenberger and Jack McClintock opposed.

In addition to the $569,000 for drainage improvements, the District is facing a cost of $65,000 to install a $90,000 box culvert at Glamorgan Road, as part of the same drainage plan. In a 6-1 vote Oct. 19, council delayed that to see if staff could negotiate a better price.

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