Council was urged not to ask the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to allow industrial parks to replace what is now protected farmland by the majority of those who have spoken so far at a long public hearing Monday evening.
A minority, though, have said the city needs room to attract and retain industry.
More than 150 people attended, and dozens spoke at, the public hearing at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. The meeting started at 7 p.m. and has now gone past 9 p.m.
The city says it and its neighbours are running out of land that can be used for large, regional industrial development. It has identified 700 acres split between two large blocks of land currently in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for potential industrial development. But council has yet to vote on whether to ask the ALC to remove the properties.
One of those blocks is in Bradner, on the city’s western border with Langley and just north of Highway 1; the other is located just north of Abbotsford International Airport.
The Bradner block is adjacent to the Gloucester Estates industrial park. The city notes that its location, along with the generally low quality of the soils and lack of large-scale farming in the area, makes it desirable and lessens the impact on farming. But area residents have been vociferously opposed to the plans and celebrated a year ago when the ALC denied a private developer’s exclusion application.
The block north of the airport has been the subject to less opposition, but contains better soil and is largely farmed intensively.
Bradner residents said the plan jeopardizes the essence of their community.
Resident Cherry Groves saying the plan “will destroy Bradner,” and Murray Brown said “The feeling is we are really losing the sense of a community.”
John Vissers and others said the city must protect agricultural land for environmental purposes, and warned that allowing the removal of some properties from the ALR will increase speculation on, and the land prices of, all farmland in the city.
Others noted the importance of agriculture to local industry and said exclusions jeopardize that.
Not all the comments were negative, however.
Allan Asaph of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and several other speakers said the city required industrial land to provide jobs for residents of the city and tax dollars for amenities.
Patrick Sellinger, who owns and lives on a Bradner property that is being considered, said the farmland was poor and unsuitable for growing many crops, although he noted the process is bittersweet.
One speaker argued that if the properties are removed, they should be reserved for agricultural-oriented industries and businesses.
Council will vote on whether to ask the ALC to exclude some or all of the properties on July 31.
In 2005, as part of its City in the Country Plan, Abbotsford asked the ALC to exclude 919 acres to the north and east of YXX, noting that the city was running out of industrial land. The ALR approved the exclusion of just under half the land. Following the plan, uptake of the new industrial properties was slow, although it has accelerated in recent years. Staff have said the land will soon run out and the remaining properties are less suitable for larger industrial uses.
When the ALC denied the exclusion of the Bradner lands last year, it suggested it would be more favourable to an application from a local government, rather than a private developer.
Watch Wednesday’s Abbotsford News for more.