ALC rejects review of North Lougheed

Conflict of interest not a matter for provincial body to decide

Sandie Banni speaks against Pitt Meadows plans to develop the North Lougheed Commercial corridor at a public hearing in January.

Sandie Banni speaks against Pitt Meadows plans to develop the North Lougheed Commercial corridor at a public hearing in January.

A request to review a decision to remove protection for a large swath of farmland in Pitt Meadows has been rejected by the Agricultural Land Commission.

The provincial body received two requests for reconsideration from residents opposed to plans to develop the North Lougheed corridor, stretching from Harris Road to Meadow Gardens Golf Course.

At the crux of the appeal was a familial connection between Pitt Meadows director of operations Kim Grout and the city’s former fire chief, Bill Park, who owns 36.7 hectares in the area.

Grout’s grandmother, Hazel Anderson, and Park’s father, Gordon, were siblings, making Grout and Park first cousins once removed.

Opponents of the exclusion application, which removed protection for 33.1 hectares (81 acres) of undeveloped land, believe the familial connection should have been disclosed by the city.

Other issues raised include allegations that SmartCentres used pressure tactics to persuade farmers to sell their land, that there was no evidence more shopping centres were needed, and a suggestion that Pitt Meadows mayor should not have cast the deciding vote on whether to forward the application to the commission.

Tony Pellett, a regional planner with the agricultural commission, said in an email after reviewing the matter, the commission has determined that “there are no substantive grounds to warrant reconsideration.”

As for the relationship between a city staffer and landowner, the commission noted, an “alleged conflict of interest is not a matter for the commission to determine.”

The ruling went on to reiterate why the commission excluded the land in the first place, noting its mandate was to encourage farming and help farmers by shifting traffic off Old  Dewdney Trunk Road.

“Enabling farming to operate effectively in a substantial area of Pitt Meadows outweighs the need to preserve farmland in the much smaller area to the south of the North Lougheed Connector Road and west of Meadow Gardens Golf Course,” it noted.

Five of the properties in the exclusion area, however, have fields in production, growing corn for silage, forage and blueberries.

Sandie Banni, one of the residents who requested the review, is disappointed.

“I’m uncomfortable with all the different layers,” she said. “It’s like an onion – every time I peel one back, there’s another.”

Developing the North Lougheed strip will take years.

The Agricultural Land Commission granted the exclusion with four caveats, including further protection of farmland in other parts of the city, a required change in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, and beginning construction of the North Lougheed Connector within three years of the ALC’s acceptance of a traffic-calming plan for Old Dewdney Trunk Road.

Last week, the city voted in a 4-3 split to send its development plans to Metro Vancouver.

Mayor Deb Walters called the commission’s rejection of an appeal “reaffirming.”

“We are certainly not trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes,” she added.

“We’ve done everything above board. When you don’t get your way, it’s very easy to point fingers at people and make it very personal. This decision reaffirms that we followed proper procedures. The Agricultural Land Commission never makes [its] decisions lightly.”