City reverses rezoning for banquet hall

Contentious 600-seat facility now not allowed on industrial land

Zoning was approved for a banquet hall here

Zoning was approved for a banquet hall here

Abbotsford City Council reversed a previous decision Monday and opted not to allow zoning for a 600-seat banquet hall on a lot at the intersection of Marshall and Clearbrook roads.

The reversal happened when Coun. Dave Loewen acted as the swing vote. He voted in favour of the decision on Sept. 28, but changed his mind, asked council to reconsider, and then voted against it.

“My desire to see such a banquet hall in Abbotsford caused my emotions to overcome logical considerations,” Loewen said.

At the new vote, Loewen and Couns. Les Barkman, Sandy Blue, and Ross Siemens, along with Mayor Henry Braun, opposed rezoning the area to allow for assembly use, while Couns. Kelly Chahal, Patricia Ross, Moe Gill and Brenda Falk voted in favour. The banquet hall was to be 1,525 square metres, on the second floor of a two-storey building with light industrial space below.

The proposed banquet hall has brought spirited debate from the public on both sides. Proponents said the facility was necessary for Abbotsford’s large South Asian community, who currently have to host the customarily large crowds for weddings and milestone birthdays at larger venues in Surrey or Vancouver. Opponents worried that large gatherings in the area, which is designated as industrial-business in the Official Community Plan, would have disrupted nearby businesses.

Loewen explained that, after the first vote, he reviewed a June report from city staff which mentioned a similar facility in a Surrey industrial area which was not successful. He also thought about comments made by a neighbouring industrial business owner, who opposed the project.

He said he didn’t have any further contact with stakeholders on either side before calling Braun the next morning and asking the mayor to revisit the vote.

Neeraj Chalwa, head of the corporation that owns the land, said he was disappointed in the reversal and that he wasn’t notified about the decision going back on the agenda.

“I am very disappointed with this being turned down,” Chalwa said. “This was not a democratic way of making this decision.”

Chalwa and realtor Hari Sharma, a business associate on the project, said they will be looking into any possible recourse to overturn the reversed decision. At Monday’s meeting, Braun encouraged those involved to meet with the city’s planning department to find other appropriately zoned land to build a banquet hall.

However, Chawla and Sharma said the reversal has dampened their enthusiasm to build in Abbotsford.