Residents want to buy Woodwynn land in Central Saanich to halt proposed therapeutic institution
Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
A controversial proposal to house homeless people on Woodwynn Farm in Central Saanich has ignited a race to raise $6 million to buy the historic property.
On one side is Richard LeBlancs Creating Homefulness Society, with a plan to use the rolling, 78-hectare property on West Saanich Road as a therapeutic farm for homeless people.
On the opposite side are neighbours from Mount Newton Cross Road, who have formed a non-profit group to raise funds to keep the property as farmland in perpetuity.
Neighbours admit they do not want to see the farm become an institution for homeless people, but say they are looking at a social component for the farm, possibly incorporating some of LeBlancs ideas.
However, LeBlanc is accusing the group of over-the-top neighbourhood protectionism.
They are trying to buy the farm out from underneath us. Its a $6-million NIMBY [not in my back yard] campaign under the guise of protecting farmland, LeBlanc said.
This is the most rabid, radical group of NIMBYs I have ever seen. There is such a fear of the homeless.
After collecting and reviewing about 80 letters against the project at Central Saanich municipal hall yesterday, LeBlanc said there has been a campaign of misinformation.
Most of the letters object to the land being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, but his group doesnt intend to take it out of the ALR, he said.
A video about the LeBlanc project, posted on YouTube, is getting supportive comments, although many are coming from people who do not live in Central Saanich.
Hal Irwin, who is part of the neighbours group, said the major aim is to preserve the farmland and, if successful, the Land Conservancy will help put a protective covenant on it.
We are hoping there will be an area for organic farming and a covenant on Hagen Creek, and theres interest in establishing riding trails and hiking trails as well, he said.
There is an element of NIMBYism, Irwin admitted.
The farm is the linchpin of the valley. I live overlooking it and, given a choice of having an institution there and having ongoing farming, I like the idea of ongoing farming, he said.
But, for both groups, it comes down to raising $6 million in a hurry.
The neighbours group is hoping for a break from the owner of the property and is looking for donations, while LeBlanc is approaching charitable foundations and having ongoing talks with the province.
We have a purchase agreement which allows for a 90-day extension if necessary, said LeBlanc. The initial agreement expires next month.
The farm is owned by John Arnaud, who bought it in 1988.
The Land Conservancy would help with a covenant on the property, which has agricultural, heritage and environmental values, but not with fundraising, said deputy executive director Ian Fawcett.
We will help anyone who wants to preserve the land, he said.
In February, Central Saanich council voted unanimously not to support institutional or residential zoning on the picturesque property. At that point, LeBlancs plan called for between 12 and 96 people living on the property, but he has adjusted the plans so people would work at the farm, but live offsite. We are negotiating with three or four facilities, he said.
Central Saanich Mayor Jack Mar agreed that, if farm workers do not live on the property, rezoning is not needed.
If he wants to bring people in to work on the farm, he doesnt have to talk to anyone, he said.
Planning committee chairman Coun. Robert Thompson said the rules will be the same, whichever group is successful in buying the property.
From the council perspective, we just need it to be consistent with our bylaws, he said.