Residents and developer offer different visions for new Abbotsford park

Residents and developer offer different visions for new Abbotsford park

Developer wants to buy city land, build 37 houses and create park; neighbours just want a park

A group of Bateman Road-area residents say a city-owned piece of land should become a park instead of being turned over to a developer who wants to build three dozen homes in the area.

The builder, though, says its proposal to create boardwalks and trails on 14 acres of land it owns, then turn the resulting park over to the city, would benefit Abbotsford residents.

At issue is a pair of large properties tucked up against the lower reaches of Sumas Mountain at the easternmost extent of Bateman Road, just northwest of Robert Bateman secondary school.

The larger of the two properties is dominated by wetlands and large trees, and, while its owner has long sought to build on the site and a portion was previously used to grow berries, most is environmentally sensitive and off limits to development. Next door is a parcel gifted to the city by a developer years ago and now used to collect run-off water from neighbouring developments. The land is designated as park/open space in the city’s official community plan, and floods periodically. The two properties are located on the south side of Bateman Road, just within Abbotsford’s urban development boundary. Across the road are blueberry fields located within the agricultural land reserve.

Morningstar Homes wants to buy the city land, and build homes on it and a slice of its own property. It would also build a boardwalk system through the protected area, and trails connecting it with the nearby school, then turn over the 14 acres to the city to use as a park.

But a group of residents in the area say developing the area in the way proposed will squeeze bird habitat in the area, increase the risk of flooding, imperil a pedestrian corridor, and change the character of the neighbourhood. They say the city should try to purchase the wetlands and create a park that includes both lots, better linking the Discovery Trail with Sumas Mountain neighbourhoods via the existing Cedar Springs trails.

The proposed project has spurred the formation of a group calling itself the Bateman Neighbourhood Association, which Madelaine Beatty says has more than a dozen active members, with around 70 people signed up in support. The group has crafted its own proposal.

“Why is this being flushed away because we feel there’s a need for more houses?” asked Bill Beatty, who lives in a house with a backyard looking over the city land.

Beatty said the city parcel is a community asset that should be preserved and enhanced itself. He and fellow residents compared the property and its potential to Willband Creek Park, a water detention facility that also serves as a park and wetland.

“We don’t want houses and development, we want a different kind of development on here,” Madeline Beatty added.

“We can make something really positive out of this,” Jacques Chapdelaine told The News.

Dozens of the group’s members came to council in mid-May to oppose a nearby application to subdivide a property adjacent to the Cedar Springs Trail, just up the hill from Bateman Road. That public hearing was deferred because council lacked a quorum following a mass recusal by AbbotsfordFirst members and the unexpected absence by Les Barkman due to a family medical issue.

To proceed, the proposal will need to pass several hurdles and convince council that it should amend the official community plan it adopted with fanfare in 2016. Since then, council has only amended the Official Community Plan twice – once with housekeeping updates, the other to include the recently adopted UDistrict neighbourhood plan.

Council has previously spoken about the need to stick with the plan, and expressed happiness with the lack of application to change it. Morningstar has applied to have the land use for the city property amended in the OCP, Morningstar president Ryan Lucy said.

Lucy says he believes his company’s project would gift the city with a community asset.

“It’s really up to council to make that decision, but my opinion is trading … four acres of stormwater detention facility for roughly 18 acres of wetland with all the trails … is a net benefit,” Lucy said.

While neighbours say the new homes would be at risk of flooding at the site, Lucy said plans to relocate the storm detention facility nearby should address those problems and provide a place for water to go during a storm.

After submitting its first application, the company is working on revisions requested by the city. That process will take months, Lucy said, and the project won’t come before council for a vote before the fall.

The company said in a letter to residents that it plans to hold a public information meeting to elaborate on its plans.