Abbotsford council is set to make one of its most scrutinized and controversial decisions of this term tonight.
Council will cast their votes today on whether to ask the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to remove farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in order to provide more room for local industry.
As Abbotsford adds thousands of new residents, it will need to increase its industrial land base in order to provide more jobs, council was told earlier this year.
During the creation of the Official Community Plan, staff identified two areas for possible industrial expansion. But both are located in the ALR, which prohibits such uses without the approval of the quasi-judicial ALC.
One of those blocks is in Bradner, on the city’s western border with Langley and just north of Highway 1; the other comprises most of the agricultural lands located north of Abbotsford International Airport.
The Bradner block is adjacent to the Gloucester Estates industrial park and has been part of the Fraser Valley Regional District’s growth strategy for more than a decade.
Its soil had been described as mediocre at best, and a minority of properties in the area are intensively farmed. But those who live on the area’s acreages have strongly opposed previous plans to remove land from the ALR and celebrated a year ago when a private developer’s request for an exclusion was denied.
The block north of the airport has been subject to less vocal opposition, but it contains better soil and is intensively farmed. The city’s own Development Advisory Committee has given its support for the exclusion of only the western half of the properties located north of the airport, along with all of those in Bradner.
While staff have recommended asking for the exclusion of all the properties, council has the ability to ask for a portion of the properties identified, if they so choose.
If an application is sent to the ALC, that body will then make a decision on whether to exclude some, or all of the properties requested. In 2004, as part of Abbotsford’s City in the Country Plan, the ALC approved the removal of 445 acres for industrial purposes – a little less than half that requested by the city at that time.
At a public hearing two weeks ago, Bradner residents spoke out forcefully against the proposal, saying it threatened to “destroy” their community, and expressing concern that it would lead to further exclusions in years to come.
A minority supported the proposals, arguing the city needs more land for business to grow and that many of the properties in Bradner aren’t ideal for farming.
While the vote has not yet taken place, comments by municipal politicians provide some hints on their decisions.
Mayor Henry Braun has spoken about the Bradner properties previous placement in the Fraser Valley Regional Growth Strategy, while Coun. Patricia Ross has expressed concerns about the proposal. Coun. Ross Siemens has said that he would like to see a solution to concerns about traffic in Bradner hammered out before giving the go-ahead for the exclusion of the properties in that area.
Council will vote on the proposal tonight, at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, at its 7 p.m. regular meeting, following several public hearings.
Watch abbynews.com Monday evening for the results of the vote.