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Support for Langford landowner’s covenant removal plan absent around council table

Owner wants to develop Selwyn Road property with houses, parkland; mayor not convinced
A 19-year-old covenant on this property (outlined in red) at 2684 Selwyn Rd. prevents it from being subdivided. (Courtesy of City of Langford)

The prospective developer of a former sheep farm on Selwyn Road has pulled back an application to remove a land-protecting covenant, after residents and Langford’s mayor opposed the move.

Back in 2002, Doug Jennings had a restrictive covenant placed on his 1.4 hectare property at 2684 Selwyn Rd. to prevent it from being subdivided and developed. Upon his death in 2005, the property was gifted to the local Anglican Church.

It was later bought by a private owner, Shawn Carby, and the land’s covenant is now co-held by The Land Conservancy and the City of Langford.

Carby is again seeking to have the covenant removed to allow for single- and double-family homes to be constructed on a portion of the the land, and has the backing of TLC for his request. The land is surrounded by residential homes.

Prior to making a similar request in 2017, which was ultimately rejected by council, Carby approached TLC with his plan to develop the property and received their support. In response TLC wrote that the property’s ecological condition had been degraded by invasive species, that fir trees were dying from fungal infection and that restoring the land would require “extensive and expensive methods.”

Not only does the property not represent nor is connected to a significant ecological reserve area, the transfer of ownership to a private landowner makes redundant the purpose of the original covenant, the letter concluded. TLC reiterated its support for removal in an Oct. 4 letter to Mike Achtem of Islander Engineering Ltd., representing the landowner.

Current plans submitted to the city call for 11 separate parcels in the centre of the long, rectangular lot, with parkland created at the front and rear covering 38 per cent of the property. A staff report stated that if the covenant were released and the development completed, the greenspace could be better maintained by the city’s parks department.

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But some aren’t convinced by that proposal. Mayor Stew Young, in office when Jennings secured the covenant in 2002, said even with TLC’s backing he wouldn’t support its removal.

“We agreed to preserve the land and that’s what we’re going to do,” Young said during Wednesday’s rescheduled council meeting. “We are a little bit shocked the TLC (supports the proposal) to remove their covenant.”

Colette Miller, whose house neighbours the property, admitted she would benefit from a park in the area but opposes the move. She researched the covenant when she saw the property on council’s agenda and said it should stay in place, respecting Jennings’ wishes.

“This has to mean something,” she wrote in an email to the city. “We cannot remember and respect our veterans only on Remembrance Day. How we treat them afterwards and honour their memories and wishes is something that always needs to be in place.

“What good is a covenant if it can just be removed at will?” she added. “I understand the need for development. But the property owner knowingly purchased a piece of land that specifically had a covenant in place to not develop it. The public should not have to defend a veteran’s last wishes of protecting open space in Langford.”

Achtem told council the application to remove the covenant would be tabled to allow for more consultation with TLC.

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