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The golf course closed in 2015, a losing financial gambit. The majority of land the golf course is on falls within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and after the clubhouse was shuttered, locals began to use it as green space, running there and riding horseback over it. The parcel includes trails that connect Saanich Commonwealth Place, Elk/Beaver and Lake Regional Park.
How CRD parkland acquisitions work
For an area to be recommended for acquisition by the CRD, it must, according to the announcement, “be considered to have regional environmental significance,” have distinct natural features, be accessible, increase connectivity to other recreational areas, or have an obvious environmental function—for example, as a wildlife corridor.
While the main thrust of these acquisitions is public access to green space and the protection of unique environments in the region, that does not necessarily mean these parks will remain intact, hived off forever from development and the proposition of making money.
When asked by Capital Daily, Andy Orr, CRD senior communications manager opted to make no additional comment on the reflection that “land use decisions post-acquisition are not static and, in fact, will evolve over time, depending on future asset "portfolio" management, trades among LAF's public and private partners, as well as the changing needs of communities in the CRD, including housing and other prospective development demands.”
The CRD Land Acquisition generates approximately $3.7M per year. And taxpayers also have skin in its game. By 2025, the average rate of contribution per household will be $25 annually.
It anticipates that its asset-based revenue stream and financing structure will support future land purchases of $50M over 15 years and leverage for a net increase in land values of more than $100M. The funding structure leverages borrowing capacity to purchase land that would otherwise be out of reach in a pay-as-you-go saving scheme.
The local land-trading card game
In fact, CRD land acquisitions can resemble a bit of a card game, with participating partner-players deliberating on their hands, trading, in whole or in part in assets, and biding time to accommodate whatever the suit is of the moment in anticipation of long-term gains. And, as much as those projected gains are deeply rooted in environmental considerations, they are also about money..
One of the CRD’s major partners in land acquisitions has been charitable land trust The Land Conservancy (TLC) of British Columbia. A good example of the card game analogy is the three-way 2015 transaction which saw Shaw Communications Inc. chip in $50,300 to pay off the TLC’s tax arrears so that TLC could fold its interests in the park and transfer Sooke Potholes to the CRD.
Since 2000, the CRD has acquired 4,600 hectares of land. This latest purchase is one of many the CRD has made, the recent majority in the form of a set of expansions to existing parks such as the Jordan River, Island View , Mount Work regional parks, and Mill Stream Creek.
These expansions have generated welcome additional space for camping, enhanced cycling and hiking opportunities for CRD residents. But the expansion of natural areas is also ultimately on a collision course with the exponential expansion of the region’s population and anticipated urban sprawl.
Green space versus living space
Since 2000, the CRD has acquired 4,600 hectares of land. This latest purchase is one of many the CRD has made, the recent majority in the form of a set of expansions to existing parks such as the Jordan River, Island View , Mount Work regional parks, and Mill Stream Creek. These expansions have generated welcome additional space for camping, enhanced cycling and hiking opportunities for CRD residents but the public would be remiss to believe that the expansion of natural areas is not also on a collision course with the exponential expansion of the region’s population and anticipated urban sprawl.
The admission was made in the CRD 2020-2021 Land Acquisition Strategy that “opportunities to acquire natural areas in the region will diminish or be lost entirely as the population grows, and as demand grows along with it, to change the land use of existing natural areas.”
The very fact that it is able to make purchases now—in the words of its announcement, that prioritize environmental conservation, enhance visitor experience, and increase the accessibility and equity benefits of regional parks, in the short run—we need to remember that in the long run, the Fund like any other business, is just that, a business.
Future pressures, whether they be environmental, economic, political or demographic, will inform what will ultimately be business decisions for the CRD around the purchase and resale of parkland in the region. And those decisions may become harder to make as the region continues to grow.