Nine acres of Fraser Health-owned land on McCallum Road remains vacant. File photo

As Abbotsford struggles for rental housing, Fraser Health sits on prime land

Still no plans released for McCallum Road property

As Abbotsford residents try to find housing in the country’s tightest rental market, nine acres of developable land zoned for midrise apartments continues to sit vacant along a prime transit corridor in the centre of the city.

But the owner of 2179 McCallum Rd. isn’t a developer waiting for a better deal or hurdling government red tape; rather, it’s a public body: Fraser Health.

The property used to be home to the long-gone MSA Hospital, and Fraser Health had once intended to construct a “campus of care for seniors” on the property.

A request for proposals to create such a facility was issued in 2014, but failed for undisclosed reasons. In the years since, Fraser Health has indicated that it has changed tack.

Documents from December 2015 obtained by the The News suggested Fraser Health was looking to sell the land. And in September 2015, Fraser Health chief executive officer Michael Marchbank told the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District that the residential care facility would be built elsewhere and much of the lands sold off.

But the lands have yet to be sold or developed.

Last week, Mayor Henry Braun told The News that he hasn’t yet spoken to Fraser Health’s new chair, Jim Sinclair, who was installed in his position following the election of the NDP.

Braun said he had previously heard that Fraser Health was looking to build facilities for seniors on half the property and sell the remainder.

“I am hopeful that something will get underway there soon,” he said.

In an emailed statement, a Fraser Health spokesperson said: “We do not have an update to share at this time. The Abbotsford Community Health Centre and residential care projects are moving forward and we will have more information to share about them in the coming months.”

But timelines for the site keep getting bumped back. In May 2016, Fraser Health said it expected to release one or more requests for proposals for the project within 12 months. However, nothing has since materialized.

If half the site is sold, Braun said it would be ideally located for the construction of multi-family housing. Council recently gave the go-ahead for the construction of a three-building 204-unit rental apartment complex on King Road, south of Highway 1.

That project will be built on two acres of land.

With the MSA site listed at nine acres and Abbotsford’s existing rental stock at only 4,000 units, the development of just half the site could theoretically increase the number of rental spaces in Abbotsford by up to 10 per cent.

The entire site was most recently assessed at a value of $16 million.

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