New industrial growth plan should still include conversion of farmland, Abbotsford mayor says

Province denied city’s 2018 request to exclude lands from the Agriculture Land Reserve

Mayor Henry Braun says the next plan for the Fraser Valley’s growth should continue to include the eventual development of 134 hectares of farmland on the western edge of the city.

The rhombus-shaped chunk of land immediately north of Highway 1 and east of Gloucester Estates Industrial Park has long been eyed as the potential home for more industry. It was included in the Fraser Valley Regional District’s 2004 plan for growth, and three years ago, the City of Abbotsford unsuccessfully asked for the removal of it and another “special study area” from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

FROM 2018: No industrial development on Abbotsford farmland, ALC tells city

But the area was conspicuously omitted from the first draft of a new regional growth plan seen by local politicians this month.

The FVRD has started work on a regional growth strategy, a document that attempts to lay out a region-wide plan for growth for the decades to come. The last such strategy was created in 2004. That previous strategy designated the western properties for growth – a fact that Braun noted regularly when discussing the city’s own request to remove the properties from the ALR.

But the first draft of the new one omitted the area.

That, Braun told The News, will need to change.

FVRD staff say it will.

The focus for the lands has narrowed from general industry to food processing and other forms of industry that support the agriculture sector, and in an interview with The News, Braun pointed to a report for the provincial government this year that called for B.C. to become a “global agritech leader” by spurring more innovation in the sector. He says the city has no intention of touching the region’s most-productive farmland on Matsqui and Sumas prairies.

While Braun no longer sits on the FVRD board, at Thursday’s meeting Coun. Ross Siemens voiced a similar view while reiterating council’s desire to include the land in the strategy.

“Seventy-five per cent of our land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, so even as we’re looking at the green economy, ag-industrial, we’re going to need more land, specifically for that type of operation,” Siemens said. “When we’re talking about industrial. We’re not talking about smoke stacks and polluting, we’re talking about how we process food.”

He was told by FVRD planners that the lands would be included in future versions.

“We’re more than happy to incorporate that,” Alison Steward, the FVRD’s manager of strategic planning, said in response to Siemens’ question about whether the “special study areas” could be included in the strategy.

“This version [of the strategy] is really for discussion purposes and to identify things that are missing.”

The inclusion of the lands will worry some, but Abbotsford’s politicians are largely united on the issue.

In a marathon council hearing in 2017 before the application was submitted, dozens of people spoke against the idea, with several warning that it would “destroy” Bradner. But council voted 8-1 at the time to apply to remove the land, with Braun and others citing the city’s lack of land for industry and the properties’ mediocre soil.

In its decision, the ALC rejected many of the city’s arguments for why the lands should be excluded, saying the properties could be farmed and that it wasn’t the commission’s duty to solve the industrial land crunch in Abbotsford.

Braun took heat from opponents of the plan, but the plan didn’t hurt him politically; during the 2018 municipal election, Braun scooped up 61 per cent of votes cast at Bradner’s Municipal Hall.

RELATED: ALR decision aftermath: Bradner residents consider election action; mayor disappointed

Braun expects the matter to return to the council table in the near future.

“Either this council or the next council will be revisiting those study areas,” he said.

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