–by Mick Rhodes
At the July 23 regular council meeting it was decided by Sooke Council that they want to pay a consultant in the near future, $20,000, to envision a plan for Lot A, a five acre parcel situated on Wadams Way behind Western Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart. Council’s intent is “to determine the ideal layout of the different uses and stakeholder groups on Lot A, including the District’s civic interests, Council determined a design planning exercise be conducted.”
Ever since the DOS in 2014 bought Lot A for $1.42 million, it has been patting itself on the back for its due diligence in appropriating taxpayers money in the acquisition of this prized land parcel. Forthwith, the council of the day unanimously began digging in their heels—there was no other perfect place than Lot A for a new library; and subsequently shepherded the VIRL to concur (after the SEAPARC site was found to be not central enough for public use).
To cement their entrenchment on Lot A, it wasn’t before long that the DOS began wooing representatives for the Sooke Seniors Drop In Centre Society and the Affordable Seniors Housing project with financial incentives that Lot A was their ‘promised land.’ Indeed, at the July 23 regular council meeting, council passed bylaw No. 717 that “The Senior/Youth Centre Reserve Fund will be credited with the 2017 closing balance of $202,578 from the Seniors/Youth Centre Reserve and any monies already approved for 2018 transfer into the Seniors/Youth Centre Reserve.” Albeit, the bylaw also states that the money transferred “must be used only for the capital design and construction costs related to a new facility in Sooke that will accommodate both seniors and youth activities.”
I can only entertain the idea that the bylaw was greeted with joyous unanimity by both groups, which ideally probably cemented both groups support for the incumbent mayor and councilors in the Fall civic election. But…I beg to defer what/where “the District’s civic interests” in Lot A should be directed and what ‘design planning exercise” should be conducted.
I ask you to close your eyes and imagine a ‘what if’ scenario.
What if the DOS applied for a loan from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA) to buy the former Mariners Village land (located at the ChurchRd/Sooke Rd traffic lights) from Rowanwood Development Corporation, and turned it into a park? The assessed value for the three vacant properties in 2017 totaled under $4 million.
Well…I decided to do some number crunching and I stumbled upon this site that makes it easy to calculate the loan repayment schedule: the ‘Alberta calculator‘ which is used by municipal government planners for their own Alberta Municipal Authority financing calculations. I turned up some interesting results…for 5 & 10 year loans.
Presently, to borrow from MFA, the rate for 5 year loans for the Spring 2019 borrowing deadline is 3.05%. and for 10 year loans – 3.45%.
I then looked up the voter rolls for the last DOS election in 2014 and found that there were 9,354 eligible voters. Now, if the DOS took out a $5 Million loan and 8000 electors were asked to ‘contribute’ to the repayment of the loan…
A five year loan would cost $5,428,892 (which includes total interest payments @ 3.05% per annum over the loan period). It would cost each individual elector over the term of the loan about $680.
- $680 x 8000 electors equals approximately $5,428,892.
- $680.00 divided by 5 years = $136.00/year
- $136.00 divided by 12 months = under $11.33/month
A ten year loan would cost $5,954,577 (which includes total interest payments @ 3.45% per annum over the loan period). It would cost each individual elector over the term of the loan about $745.
- $745.00 x 8000 electors equals approximately $5,954,577
- $745.00 divided by 10 years equals approximately $75/year
- $75.00 divided by 12 months = $6.25/month
And what if the DOS in turn offered a land swap/enticement–Lot A (five acre parcel)—to Rowanwood. Could there be some +/- added value to the land/park acquisition…maybe? Land values in the inner core of downtown Sooke will probably rise in the coming years. The Murray Rd park is up for sale and the owners, the Sooke Lions Club want half a million+ for it. If the DOS ‘sat’ on Lot A and than sold it a few years later, they may indeed recoup what was borrowed for the park.
Of course, some would say that local government shouldn’t be in the speculative private real estate market. It could also be argued that the DOS should represent the best interests of taxpayers. There may be disgruntled adjoining landowners who would object but the Lot A land parcel is money in the bank. Herb Haldane, a former Sooke councilor, raised the issue in February 2017 when he was quoted as saying, “the property could sell one acre parcels for between $1 million and $1.5 million and eventually it could be more than that.”
The Lot A acreage would be more suitable for multi-family residential/commercial development. With underground parking, business store fronts would be located on the street level and apartments/condos above; all within walking distance of shopping and parks, and traffic would additionally be diverted off of Sooke Rd via Church Rd. The north-east side of Wadams Way bordering Church Rd is already zoned for future multi-family residential/commercial development and is up for sale. The Knox four story affordable building site is directly across from it. Perhaps the Affordable Seniors Housing Project, who are interested in Lot A, could be accommodated within a future development. And let’s not forget CASA, who are centrally located to provide the needed social services for this future burgeoning neighbourhood.
If the DOS moved quickly to negotiate the purchase of the Rowanwood property, it could be conceivable that the future Vancouver Island Library for Sooke could be built there.
And what if the Seniors Drop-In /Youth Activity Centre were also built along side the library – what a panoramic view!
Why the rush to build the library on Lot A? The architectural design of the circular walled library with a large glass fronting would be a wasted view. Lot A is located behind a shopping centre! The library was originally slated by the VIRL to be built at the former Mariners site development that is now owned by Rowanwood; that’s where the new library should be located. Could the lease be again extended for the present library at Anna Marie Rd? Why are we going to start building the library in the Fall with the on-coming rainy season? Couldn’t the ground work start in the Spring? We should be thinking of Lot A as a future ‘bargaining chip’…or a long term speculative real estate investment for the DOS taxpayers.
There is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us, for the community to have a central harbour park with a magnificent view of the harbour, basin and surrounding Sooke highlands. This view is a daily reminder to everyone that drives/walks/cycles past it every day and will be shared by our children’s children – that we live in an awesome place. We should take pride and care for this land and water that is a part of our social and spiritual wellbeing. The park could become the heart of Sooke!
Our Official Community Plan states that the DOS will work towards making Sooke a vibrant and accessible community; will improve opportunities for residents to gather and connect; and also, to take steps to protect Sooke’s natural beauty. Will everyone, from all ages, walks of life and the stakeholder groups pull together, or will we individually blindly turn away from this golden opportunity. It might cost you as little as ‘a 6 pak 4 a park 2 day’. You can open your eyes now.
I first moved to Sooke in the Fall of 1977 and moved to Victoria to study journalism at Camosun College in the Fall of 1992. When I lived in Victoria, I became involved in community activism and spent near 17 years advocating for social justice issues; producing educational learning materials for community television and educational institutions and helping to organize conferences, citizen assemblies and music festivals. Moving back to Sooke in 2009 for a quieter way of life, I later worked as a part-time driver at Sooke Taxi before retiring in 2017.