The gate has been closed at Woodwynn Farms for months but the controversial property is about to reopen with a new owner — the provincial government.
“The concern has been that its part of the Agricultural Land Reserve and it should be used as a farming purpose so it will be doing exactly that,” said Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy.
The provincial budget of $6.9 million includes $5.8 million to purchase the 193-acre site and $1.1 million for renovations, fees and soft costs.
The province’s plan is to operate a therapeutic recovery centre for people with mental health and addictions issues, similar to one that was at the site for the past nine years.
The society that formerly ran Woodwynn Farms decided to close it down in January, after years of red tape, including no occupancy permits that were placed on the residences in December 2017 due to safety concerns. But the new centre will not include any housing.
“People won’t be housed on location, they’ll be housed in other supportive house locations throughout southern Vancouver Island,” said Darcy.
Those eligible for the program will be bused to the site each day to work the farm.
Our Place Society is opening a similar recovery centre this fall at the former youth detention centre in View Royal. It will have a housing component but will be for men-only. They’re hoping to get involved with the Woodwynn project as well.
“People working the fields, that becomes part of the therapy, the work ethic, making yourself healthy again,” said Our Place Society spokesperson Grant McKenzie.
The province says it will take about a year to get the program up and running and while they say a farm manager will oversee it in the short-term, they wouldn’t confirm if it would be Woodwynn Farms founder Richard Leblanc.
Reached on the phone, Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said it is too preliminary to comment.