The public is split on whether industrial parks should replace 700 acres of farmland at two sites under consideration by council.
With the region running out of large industrial parcels, the city has been considering asking for permission to convert two “special study areas” into new industrial parks. One is located in Bradner, just north of Highway 1 and adjacent to the Gloucester Estates industrial park in Langley; the other is located immediately north of Abbotsford International Airport. Both are currently in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and the city would need to persuade the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) of the need to exclude the properties.
Feedback gathered at recent open houses found substantial opposition to the removal of the Bradner properties, but support for the exclusion of the site north of the airport.
Strangely, those results were flipped among respondents to an online survey, who were overwhelmingly in favour of removing the Bradner site but opposed to the exclusion of the airport properties.
Opponents to the removal of the Bradner property cited a lack of infrastructure and the potential for more traffic. Many also suggested that farmland already wasn’t being sufficiently protected, with some properties already used for purposes not keeping with the area’s agricultural roots.
Mayor Henry Braun questioned how accurate it was to count the responses for and against, noting that some people may have submitted multiple comment responses in person or online. But whatever the exact numbers, opposition to the removal of the Bradner properties was expected.
Braun said he spoke to multiple concerned people, and residents of the area had previously voiced their disapproval of a private application for the same lands. That request was denied by the ALC, which suggested that it would be more amenable to an application from the city, rather than a private developer.
Council voted last week to give staff the go-ahead to prepare for an official public hearing on July 17 on whether to send an application for the exclusion of the properties to the ALC. A vote on the decision would be held at a later date.
Braun said the properties make up a tiny portion of ALR lands in Abbotsford. He noted three-quarters of all the city’s land is in the ALR and said those opposed to the removal of the land under consideration frequently suggest other parcels, which also happen to be in the reserve.
Braun said the Bradner lands make sense to consider because they are adjacent to an existing industrial park and the soil quality is questionable, with many parcels not intensively farmed.
“If the city is serious about providing employment lands, we have to be honest with ourselves,” he said. “I don’t know where else to go except these two study areas. They’re not perfect options, but they are the best options.”
Couns. Sandy Blue and Ross Siemens both suggested the city work to ensure that if the properties are removed, they are used for industrial uses that create significant jobs.
Siemens also said that he would like to see a plan developed to address traffic issues in the Bradner area before those parcels are removed from the ALR. He said it would be important to ensure that “right in, right out” access to Highway 1 at Lefeuvre Road is possible.
Coun. Patricia Ross cast the lone vote against holding a public hearing in July on the proposal.
While Ross said she was having “great difficulty” with the proposal, she said she was in favour of having a public hearing. But Ross said any public hearing should be held in the fall.
She said holding a public hearing in the summer, when many people are on holidays and out of the region, ran against past practice with regard to controversial subjects. Ross said the July 17 hearing also gave the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) and Metro Vancouver Regional District too little time to properly weigh in on the proposal. Ross is vice-chair of the FVRD and said the body had complained in the past about other jurisdictions providing too little time for feedback.
Ross also said she has concerns with the proposal as a whole.
“I don’t know that we have fully sussed out … the full implications to the agricultural industry of taking this out,” she said. “”I want more jobs for people, too, but not at any cost.”
She suggested the city may be able to create jobs that don’t take place on large industrial parcels.
“We are such an amazingly innovative community that thinks out of the box.”