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Sooke hopes for housing, roundabout from ex-ALR land

Owner is expected to apply for low-density housing

The 0.46 hectare plot was one of the last within Sooke's downtown core to belong in the ALR. (Agricultural Land Reserve map)

Last summer Sooke council supported removing a property from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and yesterday the Agricultural Land Commission approved the request. Now council will vote on changing the land use designation to allow for a low-density housing development application, which it expects from property owner Keycorp Developments.

The land is a 0.46-hectare corner property on Throup and Church Roads, exactly where Sooke is planning a transportation corridor to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 14. To fit in a roundabout at Church and Throup Roads, Sooke needs to shave off a corner of 6588 Throup Rd., which it expects to negotiate in the development permit process. Sooke also supported the argument that this particular property is better suited for housing than agriculture.

It’s never been used as a farm, and even though it was in the ALR it was not subject to the Agricultural Land Commission Act. (The exception is complicated, but suffice it to say, properties registered before 1972 as a single plot of land of less than two acres are not subject to the Act.)

At the public hearing in May 2022, three people spoke up to say Sooke needs to conserve whatever agricultural land is left, no matter how small. They referred to Sooke’s past reputation of releasing too much land from agricultural uses, and urged this council to do things differently.

“[The speaker] is correct in that Sooke had an extremely bad reputation in those first seven years as a municipality. Left right and centre ALR was being removed,” Coun. Jeff Bateman said at the public hearing. But, he maintained that this property is better suited for town centre growth than agriculture.

Sooke went from losing 204 hectares in seven years, to one hectare over 16 years

Sooke was only incorporated in Dec. 1999, and in its first seven years, 204 hectares of land was removed from the ALR. The largest exclusion was 116 hectares for Sunriver Estates, a development with more than 700 detached homes for which the developer was fined $200,000 23 years ago for trying to bribe government aide David Basi to help to get out of the ALR. (The application to remove the land would have approved anyway, the defence lawyer for the developer said, because the soil quality was so poor.),

Between 2007 and now, a net total of 1.04 hectares have been removed, including the 0.46-ha property on Throup.

Bateman said Sooke councils got better at denying requests—or rather recommending that the ALC deny requests, including some “persistent applicants” who want to remove their land from the ALR, he told The Westshore. (The decision to remove land has been up to the ALC since it was established in the 1970s, but local governments can support or oppose applications.)