After a contentious Central Saanich council meeting on Dec. 18, Richard Leblanc said that not much has changed, at least until he meets with council in a closed-door meeting in the new year.
Leblanc, executive director of the Creating Homefulness Society, said that a contractor is offering to do some electrical upgrades to the RVs free of charge, which they hope to present to council in the new year. The RVs are currently powered by extension cords from a main house, which is over 100 feet away.
In an interview, Leblanc said there was a misunderstanding regarding the amount of space in a house on the property. In a statement following the posting of the ‘no occupancy’ signage, the District of Central Saanich said “it is our understanding Woodwynn Farms has sufficient safe housing for participants without depending on the recreational vehicles.” Leblanc said while there would be room for the participants, there would not be room for two overnight supervisors living on the property, who Leblanc said have training.
Online commenters and politicians have said that while they are sympathetic to the homelessness issue, they object to its location, as the 193-acre parcel is considered prime farmland.
Both MLA Adam Olsen and Coun. Christopher Graham, who were on Central Saanich council when Leblanc’s original proposal came forward in 2008, said Leblanc had the opportunity to purchase other properties with more appropriate zoning. Olsen said Saanichton School, a kilometre away from the property in question, was for sale at the same time as Woodwynn Farms. It was within the ALR and also had an institutional zone, and that mayor and council of the day suggested it as a potential option.
Leblanc said during the initial planning, he and the Society’s board of directors had considered properties in Sooke and near the University of Victoria, but real estate agents warned him that neighbours would not look kindly upon his proposal due to stigmas around addiction and mental health.
“The underlying issues of NIMBY-ism and stigmas around mental health and addiction and homelessness travel,” said Leblanc, referring to other low-income housing or treatment facilities in the region which have faced public opposition.
Leblanc said this farm most closely mirrored the San Patrignano model, and that if the Society had to deal with regulatory issues and stigma regardless of location, they should choose the property with the highest potential upside. Leblanc did not say if he would consider moving, but that they “always had to keep their options open,” but it was not the top priority.
Leblanc said he has met with the District of Central Saanich many times publicly and privately, and he said that their most recent application to the Agricultural Land Commission was made with the input of District staff, who suggested reducing the number of residences to 40, using temporary structures instead of permanent ones and applying for a temporary-use permit rather than rezoning.
Leblanc pointed to the Sidney Crossing development and the marijuana grow-op proposed for Central Saanich, both of which involve pouring concrete over farmland. While the Sidney Crossing development is on farmland within the Agricultural Land Reserve, the Victoria Airport Authority owns the land, thus putting it under federal jurisdiction. As a provincial body, the Agricultural Land Commission cannot overrule the wishes of a federal body. In the case of the proposal by Evergreen Medicinal Supply, both federal and provincial governments consider marijuana cultivation an allowable use of agricultural land, even though this particular proposal involves placing 21 greenhouses over arable land.
However, Leblanc said that “we keep finding ways to justify not helping…regardless of who owns it, we can’t escape the irony that we’re paving over farmland.”
“We feel that if we go to another property, we’re back to square one.”