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Huge Mt. Lehman industrial development could spur major road changes

Proposal would create nearly one million square feet of new industrial floor space
Several proposed developments will trigger major changes for the Mt. Lehman Road corridor in Abbotsford. City of Abbotsford Map/Abbotsford News

A broad reconfiguration of Mt. Lehman Road may take place, if a large new industrial project just north of the Fraser Valley Auto Mall gets the green light from Abbotsford council.

A development company hopes to construct eight different large buildings with nearly one million square feet of floor space on a 32-hectare (80-acre) chunk of land along Mt. Lehman.

The proposal by Hungerford Properties would be one of the largest industrial developments in recent years and consume the last large chunk of developable industrial land in west Abbotsford, north of Highway 1. The block of land encompasses one-sixth of all the land approved for exclusion by the Agricultural Land Commission in 2005. Hungerford hopes to also eventually develop a block of land to the north.

Two other major development projects are proposed for the same stretch of Mt. Lehman Road. For any to proceed, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has declared that Mt. Lehman Road needs significant upgrades.

The city says that the owners of the three chunks of land – Alf Wall has proposed the construction of apartments just north of Highstreet, while Erwin Braun owns a piece of industrial land directly north of the auto mall – have agreed to split the cost for the improvements if each project proceeds.

The changes would include the replacement of the roundabout at Highstreet, new turn lanes at the intersection of Mt. Lehman and Fraser Highway, a new slip lane south from Mt. Lehman Road to Highway 1 westbound, and the extension of a merge lane eastbound on Highway 1. The roundabout would be replaced by a traffic signal.

The industrial development before council Monday concerns four separate properties – 3407, 3459, 3481 and 3583 Mt. Lehman Road – that together constitute a large rectangular block of land.

Council unanimously gave first reading to rezoning of the site last week. The public will now have an opportunity to provide their comments - in-person public hearings are prohibited for the moment so comments must be made in writing to city hall - before council votes again on the issue in the weeks to come. Mayor Henry Braun recused himself because his brother owns an adjacent property.

The eight buildings on the site would be mostly slated for industrial uses, but the city is also changing its industrial zoning bylaw to allow for up to 40 per cent of floor space to be used for office, retail, rental and product display – so long as goods are manufactured or warehoused on site. Currently, only 25 per cent of space is allowed for such uses. The bylaw change will also permit indoor recreation facilities to operate in industrial zones.

Those changes came after a staff review, and will also apply to many other industrial buildings located elsewhere in the city.

Because the land was previously in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), the developers will have to provide $1 Million to the Abbotsford Agricultural Enhancement Endowment Fund.

The developer plans to fill in three ditches, two streams and one habitat, while creating streamside protection areas less than half the size of that which would normally be required under the cities rules.

A staff report notes that “While infill of fish habitat could have been avoided, the size and arrangement of large industrial buildings and associated parking and loading areas would have been significantly reduced or altered.”

To compensate for the disturbances on the property, the developer will work to restore habitat on the property it owns to the immediate north, along with work on a city-owned property at 29457 0 Avenue. Fifteen years ago, city planners had predicted that some industrial parcels yanked out of the ALR would have such “environmental challenges.” Planners at the time suggested that developers could undertake remedial projects in the McLennan and Fishtrap Creek watersheds, including at the 0 Avenue property, when necessary to provide less-than-sufficient environmental setbacks on the industrial properties.

The plans have been given the thumbs-up by the city’s environmental co-ordinator, and the city report says “proposed impacts to … streamside protection and enhancement areas will occur within areas already disturbed by agriculture and rural residential use, including three watercourses that were anthropogenically produced as drainage ditches.”

But the province still has to give its full sign-off. If it doesn’t like the plans, the city says a “contingency design” has been drawn up.

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