Sooke Lions Center Perspective
The Sooke Lions Club has stepped up boldly with a plan for a multi-purpose community gathering place in the southwest corner of John Phillips Memorial Park (JPMP).
The proposal -- labeled as a "Community Hall" on the map but known formally as the "Sooke Lions Centre" -- calls for a 21st Century companion and counterpart to our wonderful 1937 heritage hall on Eustace. The business plan highlights parkside reception and convention space with 300-person capacity (suitable for meetings, weddings, family parties and public events) + commercial kitchen, offices, an outdoor stage and a concession stand. A much-needed daycare centre is also part of the vision.
Facilities would be available for multi-generational programming. And the two-storey building would double as a reception centre in the event of a large-scale emergency. All within the five-to-ten minute walkability zone that our evolving Official Community Plan has identified as critical in unlocking the potential of a compact town centre in which the majority of our population resides.
The tentative deal on the table would see the Lions sell its Murray Road pocket park behind Pizzability to the District at a fair-market price while promising to plough the proceeds back into the new build. They'd also secure the long-term lease of 1.3 acres of the park at the foot of the southwest slope leading up to Wadams Way. (Back in 2016, I believe the same approximate spot was mulled by council of the day as a site for the new Sooke library prior to their ultra-savvy decision to purchase Lot A.) For its part, the District would retain the P1 zoning (public recreation use) on the Murray Road park.
Given that JPMP is owned by the District (i.e., all of us), the Community Charter requires that any sale or, in this case, lease of public park land receive "approval of the electors," to quote Monday's staff report. "There are two processes through which this can be achieved: Assent Voting and the Alternative Approval Process (AAP)."
The first option would involve a referendum (likely to be held during the Oct. 2022 municipal election). The AAP, on the other hand, requires at least 10% of eligible Sooke voters (i.e., 1,123 precisely) to formally express their opposition and thus trigger a referendum with a 50% + 1 vote majority deciding the question.
Variations on the Lions Centre idea have been percolating for more than a decade as the Sooke clubs sought a long-term lease on centrally located public land. Smack in the heart of our smart-growth town centre, the park is the wholly logical spot. JPMP has been envisioned as a well-utilized central park ever since the District acquired the eastern half of the old golf course in 2005. That civic-park vision was captured after full public input by the JPMP Trust Committee chaired by Neil Flynn. It delivered its findings in late 2006. And it's been reaffirmed in two successive Parks & Trails Masterplans, most recently the 2020 version where it's identified as a "community park" and defined as "a destination park that services residents and visitors; helps to form the visual, physical and social focus of the community; offers natural features and/or built facilities, cultural features and other opportunities; and supports diverse activities - picnics, special events, sports, play areas, recreation."
If successful, the Sooke Lions Centre proposal would really launch the JPMP committee's vision of a vibrant community green space -- specifically, to quote the 2006 report, an "active, well-used park" that "caters to the general public rather than individual or small-group ownerships," "provides a meeting place, a central gathering area, for family and neighbourhood groups, festivals, community markets, etc." and "serves a wide range of community needs, including those of seniors, families, youth, children and tourists."
All while maintaining the park's natural assets, especially the pond, the trails, grassy expanses and the shady places. No question that extra careful, environmentally sensitive development of the site will be required, as the Lions are fully aware.
Over the last 15 years, loop walking trails have been embedded in the naturescape and it was determined that a Sooke bike park, as recommended in the report, would be (and is) a better fit next to Stan Jones Field at SEAPARC. Yet aside from a handful of summer events, JPMP has remained a serene green space populated by a relatively small numbers of walkers, dog owners, fitness groups and Nott Pond's armada of ducks and red-winged blackbirds.
Since 2019, however, aspects of the vision have picked up momentum along with so much else in our rapidly maturing town core. The relocated Sooke Country Market has drawn great numbers on Saturday mornings this summer and last just south of the Municipal Hall. A long-overdue public parking lot in the current site of the market was negotiated earlier this year as part of the deal the District struck with the developer of a pair of mixed-use commercial/residential rental buildings at the former Mulligans/Speed Source. And just last night the Sooke Program of the Arts Committee passed a motion (pp. 7-15) asking council to hire professionals to blueprint a design for festival and event infrastructure (an amphitheatre, for instance) in the park.
Now enter this exciting, ambitious possibility, one with a far-bigger scope and community purpose than the traditional "Lions Dens" established as home bases by and for Lions Clubs world-wide. As the map shows, the area in question is a 1.3 acre slice at the edge of a scoop of private land (not actual parkland as so many of us assume) owned by Aragon Properties.
This private land (zoned R3 - Small Lot Residential) on the east side of Otter Point Rd. will ideally be part of the future roundabout that will access the Lions project while also servicing traffic flows from Wadams Way, Otter Point and a new stretch of Wadams linking up with Grant Road (possibly via another roundabout at Gatewood, a right-of-way that logically would be opened up for through traffic from Eustace.)