Should Abbotsford ask to use ALR land for industrial parks?

Should Abbotsford ask to use ALR land for industrial parks?

Sites in Bradner and near airport identified for possible job lands

Pat Brady said he knows why experts have suggested that a block of farmland in Bradner would be an ideal location for a new industrial park in Abbotsford.

He just wishes the land wasn’t next door.

Brady was one of those who celebrated a year ago when the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) denied a developer’s application to remove 224 acres of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in order to provide more industrial land. That decision, however, suggested the ALC might be more welcoming to a city-led application. Now, that has a become a real possibility following a report suggesting the block of land – on Abbotsford’s western border, just north of Highway 1 – is one of the two best locations to expand the city’s dwindling supply of industrial land.

Council hasn’t yet made a decision but voted unanimously last week to ask the public what they think about possibly removing land from the ALR to provide room for large regional businesses to set up shop in the city. (Mayor Henry Braun and Coun. Kelly Chahal were absent.)

Along with the Bradner block, the report also recommended considering lands to the immediate north of Abbotsford International Airport. The two areas were previously identified as “special study areas” in the Official Community Plan adopted by council last year. But both are made up of parcels currently protected by the ALR.

That stage could be contentious. Many Bradner residents were vociferously opposed to the previous industrial park proposal and celebrated that plan’s rejection, although others did voice support.

Brady, one of those who led the opposition, said he will speak out against the proposal at an open house next week.

“My intention is to say nothing has changed,” he told The News. Brady is concerned about the “traffic and hassle” the development would bring to his neighbourhood. He said the land is farmable, even if some say they’ve failed in their agriculture endeavours.

At the same time, he said he understands why others may be eying the land.

“It’s an ideal location from an outsiders’ point of view,” he said, noting the proximity to Gloucester Estates industrial park in Langley.

A January report had found that Abbotsford was running out of land for industry, and particularly for those regional businesses looking for large pieces of land.

The report presented to council Monday said that proximity to transportation and other businesses, along with level ground, were keys when assessing land’s suitability for industry uses. Just under one-third of Abbotsford workers are employed at lands designated for such use.

The report found the two special study areas had the highest potential for future industrial growth. Ned Pottinger of PGL Environmental Consultants told council the Bradner site had problematic soil and low suitability for farming, but that the site located north of Abbotsford airport had “reasonably good” soils and, while having some issues, was still suitable for farming.

Council was told any removal of the lands north of the airport would see a contribution to the city’s agricultural fund, which was established following the removal of lands during Abbotsford’s City in the Country planning process in the mid-2000s.

Pottinger said contributions of around $20,000 per acre – or between $10 million and $15 million – would be made to the fund if the properties were removed from the ALR.

Mark Neill, the city’s director of community planning, said the site has farming suitability challenges given its location near the airport and other industries. The area under consideration has also been expanded slightly from that originally suggested in the city’s Official Community Plan to include properties between Mt. Lehman Road and Fishtrap Creek.

While they were voting to advance the process last week, councillors emphasized that no decision had yet been made on what, if any, parcels to ask to exclude from the ALR.

“Clearly we need to get ready for the jobs that are coming here,” Coun. Sandy Blue said, before cautioning that “this doesn’t say what the end game will be.”

Coun. Patricia Ross said she has “some concerns about some of these properties” but that getting public input is important. She also noted that, contrary to the staff report, any plan to ask for the exclusion of land would be made in the project’s fourth and final phase, rather than its third phase.

Coun. Brenda Falk said that the city needed to ensure people could work close to where they live, but that “at the same time we have to really, really balance the needs of food, where our food is coming from and how we protect farmland.”

The next stage will see open houses held for each of the two study areas, after which staff will report back to council.

An open house on the Bradner block of land will be held May 17 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Bradner Community Hall.

A second open house, for the lands located north of the airport, will be held May 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School.

Abbotsford News