Closed churches in View Royal entered the new year in limbo.
The Anglican Diocese of B.C. disestablished All Saints church in June and St. Columba’s in November, leaving the town without the presence of a faith community.
The small congregations of both churches were encouraged to join the St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s parish in Esquimalt. But what will become of the vacant buildings remains undecided.
Bruce Bryant-Scott, Archdeacon of Diocese of B.C., said the properties continue to be managed by the diocese. He expects a decision by late-spring as to which properties will be sold, leased or redeveloped. The diocese is also mulling over the future of St. Martin in the Fields in Saanich and St. Saviour in Victoria West, which also closed last year.
“There’s been significant interest from parties wanting to take over the churches,” he said. “In some cases we’ve heard from people who would happily put an offer on properties we’re not yet ready to sell.”
At St. Columba’s, the Little Friends Daycare is hoping to expand its operations from the church basement into the whole building when it becomes available.
“We certainly have enough demand for childcare spaces, we’d have no problem expanding,” Little Friends co-owner Tracy Abbott said.
Little Friends is on a month-to-month lease until July. After that it hopes to buy the building or sign a multi-year lease. “We’ve been fairly assured that one of those options will be available, we’re not likely to be evicted,” Abbott said.
Bryant-Scott said the diocese has been sensitive to the existing community uses for the churches, allowing the buildings to remain in use.
All Saints continues to be rented out for gymnastics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Its former church warden Barbara Bishop is hoping to form a society to manage the church hall. She’s put forward a proposal to the diocese to take over the lease.
“There’s a need in View Royal for more public gathering space,” she said. “I think if there is the interest from the community, we could keep All Saints open.”
To make it financially viable, Bishop knows the space will need to be put to better use, with more renters and permanent tenants.
“We’re talking to the View Royal Reading Centre to see if it could move into the basement,” she said. “We’re looking for theatre or dance groups to rent it as rehearsal space. The possibilities are endless.”
The Town is currently developing a bylaw to rezone church properties and limit the permitted uses for the buildings, which are included on its Community Heritage Registry.
“We want to ensure the buildings remain standing and that future activities don’t compromise their heritage value,” Mayor Graham Hill explained.
The properties are currently zoned in the broad category P-1, which permits them to be used as a school, church, child care facility, hospital, and for other civic or assembly use. But it also allows them to be used for public utilities — which is what the town wants to restrict.
The bylaw would ensure that under the amended zoning the properties won’t be used as pubic storage or a works yard, for example. However, the owners could apply for rezoning.
“Our zoning bylaws provide significant means for protecting these sites,” Hill said. “That comes with a responsibility. We’re still talking about private property, and we would give fair consideration to the a application to change the use if one come forward.”
The View Royal community association will discuss the future of All Saints church at its next meeting, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. in the church hall, 287 Pallisier Ave.