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Industrial park proposal in Bradner ignites concern

Abbotsford council will soon be asked to support either the developer of a proposed Bradner industrial park which will bring thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity, or opponents who will lobby to keep close to 300 acres of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Ron Emerson of the Emerson Real Estate Group told The News that his plan would create $4.7 billion in economic activity, and close to 5,000 jobs, according to the draft economic impact study.

The developer, who also created the two million-square-foot Kingswood Industrial Park in Richmond and others in the Lower Mainland, said he needs the approval of Abbotsford council to approach the Agricultural Land Commission with an application to the property taken out of the ALR.

He expects to have a plan before council in six to eight weeks.

The property lies near the Langley-Abbotsford border, next to 700-acre Gloucester Industrial Estates. In the conceptual stage, it would be bordered on the south by Highway 1 and to the north by 56th Avenue, while the western boundary would be approximately Baynes Street, and Lefeuvre Road in the east.

Emerson said it could be as large as 300 acres, depending on some property owners who are still considering whether they would sell.

Emerson said with the dearth of industrial property in the Lower Mainland, there is no question about filling his development with tenants. It would be accessible by highway and rail, and said an added selling point is the ready labour force in nearby Abbotsford.

Emerson said the West’s increased trade with Asia, a national and provincial priority, means more goods are coming into the Asia Pacific Gateway in large quantities, creating demand for warehouse space. An industrial space of 100,000 square feet was considered big only 10 years ago. Now there is demand for spaces as large as 400,000 square feet, he explained.

Meanwhile, industrial areas are coming into conflict with growing communities, and being redeveloped for residential and commercial use, such as Yaletown and False Creek.

“We’re very, very confident on the demand,” said Emerson. “There’s an acute shortage of serviced industrial land in Vancouver.”

Canadian Tire is interested in the location for a warehouse. Emerson is also dealing with two clients which are large manufacturing companies that recently made acquisitions, and are looking for space to merge operations under one roof.

Already there is concern, if not outright opposition, mounting in Bradner.

“I don’t think it should go ahead. I’m philosophically opposed to taking land out of the ALR,” said Bradner resident Yvonne Holden.

She added ALR land should only be removed if necessary, for projects like fire halls or hospitals.

“It’s the wrong thing, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

“We bought in the ALR knowing it couldn’t be developed, and we value the rural lifestyle,” said Holden.

Cherry Groves agreed, saying, “This is a rural area, and we don’t want an industrial park in it – it should stay rural.”

Jay Teichroeb, the city general manager of economic development, said city hall is aware of the pending application, and is waiting for a complete package from the developer. It will include studies of economic impact, agricultural capacity, environmental issues, servicing plans, traffic studies and more.

He offered no comment on the plan, other than to agree that it would fit into the city’s broad goal of creating more employment.

“We (city staff) have a responsibility to provide an impartial review of the application,” said Teichroeb.

And he said there would be an extensive process, including public input, before council could support the application to remove the land from the ALR.

Emerson knows it will be a challenge to make his case to the Agricultural Land Commission.

“Their primary concern is what happens with agriculture,” he said.

“We feel there is a legitimate need, and we’re hopeful the city will support us.”

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