The Khalsa Darbar Society’s non-conforming use application will go to the Agriculture Land Commission for consideration.
Pitt Meadows council voted unanimously Tuesday to forward the application, to use a building on the property, at 18701 Lougheed Hwy., just west of Meadows Gardens Golf Course, for worship and community functions.
The property is located in the Agricultural Land Reserve and would require permission from the commission for the non-farm use of a building there and adjacent land for parking.
Pitt Meadows farmer Gary Purewal, of the Purewal Group, voiced support for the Khalsa Darbar Society’s application at the beginning of the meeting. He told council about the history of the land, how the society bought the property in 1990 and entered into a verbal agreement with council at that time.
“Nothing was in writing,” he said, adding that at the time the society was excited and optimistic that it was going to achieve a milestone in the community, but that progress has been slow over the last 28 years.
“I feel that it’s very disheartening,” said Purewal.
He said that he wants people to understand that Sikhs have been living in the community and surrounding area for close to 100 years. His own family moved to Pitt Meadows in 1979.
Purewal explained that the Sikh community has a positive impact to the economic development of Pitt Meadows and that there is a sense of pride and belonging, but that there is a need for a gathering place “where our members and all residents of Pitt Meadows can come and offer support to one another.”
He said: “Social gatherings and religious events are very, very key components to the Sikh community. Not only does it offer reassurance, gatherings also create a more respectful and implicit community.
“It’s been 28 years and I think we’ve kind of earned he right to worship, to socially gather, function as a community, as they do in Surrey, Abbotsford, Richmond, a lot of municipalities and throughout B.C. as well.”
Coun. Janice Elkerton supported the application.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said, noting there have been many changes to the Agriculture Land Reserve over the years.
“Years ago, actually, places of worship were allowed. You just have to go to Richmond and you can see it all on the farmland,” she said, adding that she was told by members of the ALC that farming was discontinued on those lands and that is why the ability to have places of worship on ALR was removed.
She acknowledged that the Pitt Meadows property is a blueberry farm and thanked the Khalsa Darbar Society for putting the land back into agricultural production and not letting it sit stagnant.
Although, Elkerton said, the building has to be brought up to code and there has to be the proper egress off the highway, she thinks it will be a benefit to the community, at large, to learn about what the society does.
“You have been out at city events, you have helped out, you’ve put information booths out and I applaud you for that for trying to connect with the community at large,” she said.
Mayor John Becker also supported the application, pointing to the old black and white photographs decorating council chambers.
“Look at the pictures in front of us here. These pictures don’t represent our founding families the way they should,” he said.
“There is no celebration of the South Asian community that built this community for the past hundred years. There is no representation of the Japanese community that was an integral part of this community until the human rights abuses of the Second World War,” Becker added.
“And, of course, as a consistent theme, there is no Katzie First Nation represented in these pictures in our community.”
Becker said he would be happy to drive down to the ALC to tell them about the history of the Sikh community in Pitt Meadows himself.
Coun. Bruce Bell was encouraged to see a correspondence from the Ministry of Transportation, that it supports the proposal, as long as traffic improvements are made.
“That’s helpful because I was always been worried about coming off the Lougheed Highway and being rear-ended there. I think that is a real safety concern that will have to be looked after,” he said.
Coun. Bill Dingwall agreed the Sikh community has a long and proud history in Pitt Meadows and does need a place of worship and for gatherings and festivals. He also agreed that the traffic challenges need to be addressed.
“And right now, I think everybody knows the ALC has had a moratorium on places of worship and even golf courses on agricultural land. But the ALC, they’re the decision maker here in the province that deals with this area and they are the approving authority.”
Coun. Mike Stark said everyone wants to protect farmland.
“You farm thousands if not tens of thousands of acres here in Pitt Meadows and you are asking for one acre for a place of worship. I certainly will be supporting this moving forward,” he added.
“For me, this is the first step in making sure you do have a place of worship for your people.”