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Sooke Harbour: News: Sooke Pot Holes

Sooke, TLC at odds over potholes

By Shannon Moneo
Victoria Weekend Edition
March 12, 2004

A B.C. land trust needs to raise $3.5 million to purchase the troubled Deertrail property.

The Land Conservancy (TLC) wants to prevent development on the 63-hectare Deertrail lands, which includes sections of the Sooke Potholes, bordering three kilometres of the Sooke River.

“It’s a treasure,” said TLC executive director Bill Turner.

The long, narrow reach of land, within the District of Sooke’s boundaries, would be added to TLC’s Sea to Sea Greenbelt, linking the east to west sides of the Island.

But Sooke’s mayor is seeing red, not green over Monday’s announcement.

“God damn them anyhow,” Janet Evans said.

“How much more land do they need?”

Evans was shocked by TLC’s plans, but what incensed her most was that the municipality could lose two per cent of its tax base if the Deertrail land is left undeveloped. Last year, however, registered owner Deertrail Development failed to pay $105,072 in property taxes, representing three years of taxes.

“We don’t get a cent if it becomes a park,” Evans said.

On the Sooke River
Photo Credit: Anderson House B&B

Turner confidently stated that economic benefits would be derived from tourists and employees, even if no tax revenue was.

The existing Deertrail campground would likely remain, Turner added. “It makes sense.”

And TLC has plans to make the Sooke Potholes on Deertrail’s property into a world class destination park.

Turner said he would like to see a partnership between the District of Sooke, Capital Regional District and the province to strengthen the site and improve access.

But Evans doesn’t think the Victoria-based TLC needs more parkland.

TLC acquired the Ayum Creek lands and in the process removed potential development lands, Evans added.

“We don’t need the TLC telling us how to protect the river,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

The municipality was hoping that in conjunction with eventual development, substantial parkland would still be gifted to Sooke, Evans added.

Turner pointed out that the District of Sooke still has a lot of space to construct homes, in reference to the 700-plus home Sunriver Estates development, also bordering the sensitive Sooke River.

The property in question has five different mortgage holders, according to District of Sooke’s director of finance Laurie Hurst. After the property tax went unpaid last year, the mortgage was foreclosed and a court-ordered sale followed.

And there have been other Deertrail creditors, including a Brentwood Bay contractor owed $117,430 in 2002 and the Workers’ Compensation Board on the hook for $18,082 last year.

In 1981, Victorian Albert Yuen bought the land with plans to build a resort. Two years later he got a $1.5-million provincial grant.

Yuen refused to comment about the latest developments. His daughter said they knew nothing.

The heavily timbered lodge, the first step of Yuen’s resort, still sits unfinished overlooking the Sooke River, just beyond Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. The 20-year-old structure will likely be removed because it’s in bad shape, Turner said.

By 1999, Yuen proposed a media village which would have included high-tech film production and a destination resort with 1,300 hotel units and a spa. The land got unique zoning — Destination Resort and Media Village — to accommodate the ambitious plans.

Turner said there’s a reason Yuen’s visions never came to fruition. The rocky, riverside land, and the rough terrain beyond, are not suited to development. It’s better left as parkland.

The land will have to be rezoned to be used for a park. District of Sooke assistant planner Sabina FooFat said the closest zoning the municipality has is P1, which is public recreation zone. That designation allows such facilities as public parks, playgrounds, golf courses, campgrounds and outdoor amusements.

New owners could ask the B.C. Assessment Authority to reassess the land based on its new use as parkland. The District of Sooke would then have to base its taxes on the reassessment. 

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