Tim Collins/News staff
In what has become one of the more controversial land management issues in Central Saanich, the Maber Flats saga continues.
At the heart of the issue is water.
Maber Flats is an agricultural area that floods seasonally and it’s a flooding situation, according to some area residents, that has been exacerbated by the land use decisions of the District of Central Saanich. In late July, in a civil claim filed by the owners of Silver Rill Corn Ltd. in B.C. Supreme Court, it was alleged that the District’s failure to implement effective drainage systems and the ongoing approvals for residential and commercial developments in the area have caused 10 acres of their farmland to become “unfarmable”. That case has still to be resolved.
Add to the mix another area resident (in line with past positions held by the CRD) who advocated for Maber Flats being preserved as a wetland wildlife area.
Now another request to council, this time by Brentwood Developments, has revived the questions of what to do at Maber Flats.
The proposal involved some 34 acres (13.8 ha) of land owned by Brentwood and their application to cover the area with 50,000 cubic metres of fill in a project that initially applied for approval in February of 2016.
On June 19, the application was considered at council where councillors heard from the Director of Planning and Building Services as well as from Brian Bergland, a representative of Brentwood Bay Developments, who maintained that there was misinformation within the staff report on the issue.
A decision on the application was postponed until July 31, at which time council put the application on indefinite hold until such time as the municipality can develop a comprehensive drainage plan for the region with guidance from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Land Commission.
“We’ll be holding back any decision until we can look at drainage for that entire area, which just makes sense. If you want to put in fill in one section you can’t really do that without seeing what it’s going to do in the entire area. It’s much like we wouldn’t approve a new housing development without looking at what that would do to traffic, parking, and other services,” said Councillor Niall Paltiel.
Paltiel is acting as mayor on this issue after Mayor Ryan Windsor, who owns property in the Maber Flats region, has recused himself from the matter.
“This is an issue that’s been around as long as I’ve been alive. There are reports going back to the ’90s, and of course action on this is overdue. Still, I want to commend staff and this council for finally addressing the issue and doing it in a diligent and timely manner,” said Paltiel.
Brian Berlund, a director with Brentwood Developments, said that while he recognizes the competing issues regarding the situation, it really comes down to a question of whether Central Saanich council wants to be in the business of water management, ecological conservation or agriculture.
“There are studies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars on this dating back decades and nothing is resolved. We’re really not looking to be the bad guys here, but the fact remains that this is agricultural land where we are lucky to get one crop a year. Our agrologists tell us that (with the fill) we could be getting three or even four crops a year,” said Berlund.
“We’re also not looking to create any issues for our neighbours, but I know they’ve been frustrated with the current situation as well.”