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Re-zoning School Properties


RATIONALE


In recent years, school districts in British Columbia have increasingly deemed it necessary to close schools and, in some cases, sell all or part of the properties involved to finance their operations. Disposal of public school property, in turn, has resulted in applications to municipal councils to re-zone these properties for residential or other purposes. This process has affected the fabric of communities in a number of ways including loss of open space and recreational opportunities.


 The District of Saanich has not been immune to these impacts with several proposals that have either appeared before Council to date or are likely to appear in the immediate future. In addition, it is reasonable to anticipate additional closures, property sales and applications to re-zone.


 Communities impacted have looked to Council to address their concerns and, in some cases, have expressed a desire to protect open spaces through retention of existing zoning. Unfortunately, the current P1 Zone permits a variety of uses that could greatly impact a community and offers little protection for open space. For this reason, Council may face the choice of accepting the application to re-zone or risking a less appropriate outcome under the P1 Zone. Currently, staff has suggested a policy in the Official Community Plan (OCP) that would aim to have at least 50% of public school property dedicated to public open space, park, or other significant neigbourhood amenity, when rezoning to non-institutional uses.


 Inclusion of this policy would greatly improve circumstances for surrounding neighbourhoods where a public school property was to be re-zoned. It also is consistent with municipal policy that includes fifty percent of public school property in calculations of open space. Nevertheless, the policy suggested for the OCP does not provide protection in situations where a public school property is sold for a new institutional use under existing P1 zoning. In such cases, open space could be substantially reduced and/or public access could be denied to the property in question. It is unlikely that either outcome would be satisfactory for the neighbourhood involved.


 Council has the power to increase protection of community interests by creating a new zone(s) for public school properties that would permit school use only. Existing non-school uses such as senior’s centres could be recognized through site specific zones. As an alternative, uses deemed to be compatible with school use such as senior’s centres and day cares could be included in the new school use zone(s). In addition, through site coverage limitations, and set back requirements, Council has the ability to provide protection for existing open space surrounding school buildings.


 Creation of such a new zone(s) would not prevent the sale of public school properties. It is currently within the authority of school boards to determine whether or not they will dispose of their properties. Consequently, applications for  re-development of former school properties could still come before Council. The new zone(s) would, however, preclude substantial re-development of sites for a new purpose without Council’s agreement to rezone. This would remove the “threat” that exists under the current P1 zone and would return control of this aspect of community development and design to Council where it should properly reside.


 New zones, as described above, would provide controls of non-school uses but would not provide guarantees of public access to open space. It is possible, for example, that a public school property could be purchased for the purpose of running a private school with little or no public access allowed. Council could avoid this situation by seeking covenants from school districts guaranteeing public access, with reasonable limitations, to open space on school grounds. Combined with the provision suggested for the OCP and the new school zone(s) described above, such covenants would provide certainty that neighbourhoods could expect a continuation of access to existing public school open spaces for community use.  


RECOMMENDATIONS


1.That Council ask staff to prepare a bylaw creating a new zone(s) that permits school useonly for properties in the municipality currently zoned P1 but used for public school purposes. Existing non-school uses such as senior’s centres could be recognized through site specific zones. As an alternative, uses deemed to be compatible with school use such as senior’s centres and day cares could be included in the new school use zone(s)


      2.That Council ask staff to include in such a zone(s) site coverage and setback provisions that  provide          protection for existing open space.


   3.That Council ask staff to investigate the possibility of arrangements with school districts that        would result in covenants in favour of the municipality guaranteeing, with reasonable limitations,            future public access to open space on public school grounds.





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