'Bullied by our municipal leaders': Debate over Boys and Girls Club in Metchosin heats up
VICTORIA -- Neither side is backing down over the potential sale of a large parcel of rural land owned by the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria.
The debate was sparked early this year after the children's organization filed an application to sell a 40-acre parcel of its 98-acre property in Metchosin.
The Boys and Girls Club says that the cost of maintaining such a large area of land is significantly higher than how much it is actually used, and wants to sell the parcel and use the funds to reinvest in its programs.
When the organization announced the potential sale, the District of Metchosin and many local community members were shocked by the decision, saying that it went against the club's history of conservation and supporting youth through outdoor programs.
The municipality then sought to change its property bylaws to prevent the 40-acre parcel of land from being subdivided into multiple lots, and held a public hearing on the matter Monday.
On Tuesday, the Boys and Girls Club announced that it felt "bullied" by the municipality and that concerns of the organization selling the land to be developed into multiple buildings did not reflect its original intent.
The club says that it welcomes all potential buyers, including building developers, conservation groups, regional governments or community members.
“Within just 19 days, Metchosin targeted our property, held a surprise meeting without notification, and proceeded to pass a new bylaw aimed at devaluing our land,” said Boys and Girls Club treasurer Wayne Jensen in a statement.
“We have been members of this community for more than 35 years so it is hard not to feel anything but bullied by our municipal leaders.”
The club says it has been "forced" to submit an application to subdivide the 40-acre parcel of land into up to seven lots, up from its original application of two, to maintain the land's value under the municipality's new land amendment.
It adds that while it has always been a non-profit organization based in the outdoors, it does not explicitly have a mandate to maintain its land for conservation use.
“Council has imposed a strict one-year deadline on us,” said Jensen. “Rather than seeking solutions to conserve the land, the only option we have if we want to preserve its value is to follow council’s direction and fast-track development of this property. This was never our intention.”
Since the Boys and Girls Club filed an application to subdivide the 40-acre parcel of land in January, Metchosin's mayor says contact with the organization has been extremely limited.
"It's been a frustration on all avenues," Metchosin Mayor John Ranns told CFAX 1070 on Tuesday morning.
Ranns says that since January, Metchosin and other stakeholders have been unable to contact the Boys and Girls Club about the property, and prospective buyers are being referred to a realtor group.
"It's a very strange circumstance. It's something that I don't think any of us can quite figure out," he said.
Jay Shukin, president of the Association for the Protection of Rural Metchosin, says that community groups have been trying to contact the Boys and Girls Club with offers to help maintain the rural acreage. However, he says the club has been unreachable.
"There has been no discussion with the community in any meaningful sense from the club period," he said.
"I think this whole thing could have really been avoided if the club had spoken to the community."
Ranns says the Boys and Girls Club has operated out of the property since 1984, and purchased the land from the province in 2004. Since then, the organization has been a "good corporate citizen" and was always transparent with the municipality, until it decided to sell the property.
"It was a complete departure from how they operated in the past," said Ranns.
On Tuesday, the Boys and Girls Club said it made the decision to sell the 40-acre parcel of land in 2019 after careful calculation and deliberation.
Ranns says the first time Metchosin heard of the decision was this year, after the municipality had granted the organization two more years' worth of property tax exemptions, as it had since 2004.
Metchosin's mayor says its unclear what comes next, but he hopes the municipality's amended bylaw, which may prevent the Boys and Girls Club from subdividing the 40-acre property once ratified, will finally give the two groups a chance to have an open dialogue.
He adds that he hopes that property will continue to be used as "wilderness access for kids" for generations to come.
Ranns says that as population grows across the island, "there's only going to be more and more need for people to have a natural experience."
If the Boys and Girls Club sells the land, it says revenue from the sale will go back into the organization and the programs that take place on the remainder of its property.