UPDATE: Council reverses sustainability decision

Abbotsford council has decided to bring its four-part Community Sustainability Planning Initiative to the public for consultation.

Abbotsford council has had a fast change of heart regarding its Community Sustainability Planning Initiative.

One week after shelving the four-part environmental study and telling staff to take no further action, the initiative has been reintroduced and will go forward to public consultation.

Council made the decision Monday after Mayor Bruce Banman reopened the debate.

“It wasn’t going to come back up until January, but there were some issues in regards to funding and there are some public consultation periods that have to happen,” he said.

About $228,000 in funding is coming from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and BC Hydro, plus $90,000 from the city. If the initiative is not completed by the end of February, the city could have to repay those organizations.

Creating a sustainability strategy is also needed in order for the city to qualify for federal gas tax funds, which can amount to millions of dollars.

The initiative include the Community Sustainability Strategy, the Green Energy Plan, the Green Economic Investment Study and the Sumas Mountain Environmental Management Study.

The mountain study – which created a controversy among residents who felt the city would control what could be done with their land – has been “put to sleep,” said Banman.

Council has directed staff to stop working on the study. Instead, a Green Community Plan is being created to take a broader look at the entire municipality.

The other three portions of the initiative will now go to public consultation. Staff will amend them based on public input and council suggestions.

The reports would have to go back to council for approval.

Coun. Patricia Ross was “thrilled” it has been reconsidered.

She believes council had the opportunity for some “sober second thought” after the full ramification of halting the initiative kicked in.

“I don’t think we wanted to waste all the money and staff time,” she said.

While still concerned that the Sumas Mountain study has been dropped, Ross is looking forward to hearing the public’s views.

“I’m hoping that people will become engaged and let us know what they think,” said Ross.

Coun. John Smith, who was one of the most vocal opponents of the reports, said the risk of losing the gas tax, the possibility of paying back funding, the agreement to drop the Sumas Mountain plan and assurances from staff that the reports will be modified convinced him to move the initiative forward.

He was concerned that the report made some recommendations that could cost the city millions, citing improved transit as an example.

“Before we start leading our community on with wild expectations that we’re going to have greatly improved transit, we’ve got to figure out how to fund that. This council needs to have a debate on how much are we prepared to spend.”

Dates for public consultation have not been scheduled yet.