A proposal to move agricultural equipment dealers to east Abbotsford was defeated by council on Monday, with opposed councillors citing the location outside the city’s urban development boundary and lack of support from local First Nations on the culturally significant site as reasons for opposition.
But John Glazema, managing director of the proponent Corpus Management Group (CMG), expressed regret at the city’s rejection of the “40-plus million dollar project affecting long-term farm and agricultural equipment dealers in Abbotsford.”
The project had support from professors at the University of the Fraser Valley, the Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association and many local farmers.
The current locations of some dealers on Sumas Way causes congestion and traffic issues and one local dealer which CMG said had interest in moving to the site, Prairie Coast Equipment, has already left the community.
Neighbours had concerns about the potential impact on traffic, the project’s location outside the city’s urban development boundary, the lack of services to the area, and the need to respect sites significant to the Sto:lo First Nation.
City staff had also recommended denying the project when it came forward, as the city would be unable to provide industrial-level water supply service, sewer and fire protection.
As the city has yet to grow into the area residentially, staff said that the city is years away from understanding the long-term residential needs of the area and the project could alter future development capacities in the area.
Coun. Dave Loewen said as the official community plan (OCP) is being updated and future development is still being mapped out, he didn’t think the project “is in the best interest of our future plans.”
He also had questions about the city’s consultation with the Sumas First Nation with regard to the project and said there is no agreement currently in place between the Sumas band and CMG.
A letter from Sumas Chief Dalton Silver, which was included in the proposal report, identifies the site as being used as a mass burial site for Sto:lo people killed in the 18th century small pox epidemic. The site is also home to a culturally significant “lightning rock.”
Silver said that due to the potentially adverse impacts, they rejected the plan.
But a CMG representative at the public hearing said they would not proceed without the consent of the Sumas First Nation. In a CMG new release, Glazema said CMG has had extensive discussions and meetings with First Nations and retained independent archeologists and consultants to find resolutions to the issues.
At the council meeting, Coun. Patricia Ross said the archeological significance of the site “is far more significant than we were led to believe.”
Ross said she felt they were led to believe the neighbours were on board, but at the public hearing that was not the case.
Coun. John Smith said the lack of city services to the site is an issue, but will be taken on by the developer. He said approving the project would be conditional approval and many needs would still have to be met, including an agreement with First Nations groups.
After some discussion, Couns. Loewen, Ross, Henry Braun, Bill MacGregor and Moe Gill opposed the project. Couns. Smith, Les Barkman and Mayor Bruce Banman were in favour.
Glazema said that CMG has tried for many years to find a suitable location for farm equipment dealers and will continue to work with existing dealers to find an improved locations in the Fraser Valley.
“This is very unfortunate for the agricultural industry in Abbotsford, particularly in the context of having the highest unemployment rate in B.C. and Western Canada.”