Annette LeBox and former NDP MLA Michael Sather oppose removal of farmland on 203rd Street from Agricultural Land Reserve. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge OKs sending Golden Eagle proposal to land commission

Would entail removing 56 acres from the agricultural reserve

Maple Ridge council has approved sending Golden Eagle Farm Group’s application to remove 56 acres of farmland to the Agricultural Land Commission, but denied a similar request from Davison Dairy Farm, which has been in operation since 1900.

Council looked at three exclusion applications totalling 98 acres at its Tuesday meeting, the largest of which was Golden Eagle’s plan to remove 56 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve to allow development of a business park, while adding another 56 acres of farmland into the reserve in exchange.

“I think this is a really important topic for the community. Jobs are important,” said Mayor Nicole Read.

“I think this proposal strikes a balance.”

The offer to add the same amount of land, owned by Golden Eagle, part of the Aquilini group of companies, into the land reserve, is an important part of the application, said Read, adding she was looking forward to the commission’s response.

If excluded, the 56 acres Golden Eagle Farm Group property, formerly the Pelton tree nursery, would be developed for a business park, movie studio and temporary accommodation for movie industry professionals, which would employ 925 people, says a staff report.

The applicant, Golden Eagle Farm Group, would offer an equivalent amount of land in Pitt Meadows that is currently used for blueberry production to be included in the ALR.

The proposal would also include agricultural uses, as the applicant would donate five acres to the University of the Fraser Valley to be used for incubator farms for new farmers. There would also be a donation of $2 million in land, cash and facilities to the university to develop a food innovation centre.

Golden Eagle says the land it wants to remove has been damaged after years of use for greenhouses, driveways, buildings and concrete slabs.

It would also offer processing space for local farmers, and space for the Haney Farmer’s Market storage on other parts of the property.

Couns. Corisa Bell, Bob Masse, Tyler Shymkiw and Gordy Robson and Mayor Nicole Read supported the application going to the land commission, which will have the final say in whether the land is removed from the land reserve.

Couns. Craig Speirs and Kiersten Duncan opposed that idea.

“The ALC doesn’t do tradesies [take land in and out of the reserve], do you know that?” Speirs said. “That’s what they told us pointedly.”

Duncan said the application was a “beautiful proposal that has a lot of really good things for the community.” But allowing it to come out of the farmland reserve will encourage more applications and land speculation.

“It’s going to drastically change the area.”

Masse, though – participating by phone – said Maple Ridge needs a place for businesses that can provide local employment, mentioning that 91 per cent of the city’s tax assessment base is residential.

“We definitely value our agricultural land, but we have to have land to create jobs.”

The proposal from the Davison Dairy Farm, to remove 40 acres at 22080 – 128th Ave., also for light industrial use, didn’t get the same amount of support from council, which voted unanimously against it, although Masse had lost the connection.

“At this time, I would really like to see it more thought out,” said Bell.

Shymkiw added the ALC is taking a tougher approach to exclusion applications, citing a recent refusal to remove about 500 acres in Abbotsford for another business park.

“I really don’t think there’s an opportunity for this to go forward.”

Council was split over a proposal to remove 2.4 acres from the land reserve at 12225 – 250th St., where Andrew and Eva Pozsar had earlier proposed to build a chicken farm, only to give up on that after neighbours objected.

That application called for creating a nine-lot subdivision, if the land commission agreed that it should be removed from the agricultural reserve.

Couns. Bell, Masse and Robson supported sending it to the land commission but Read, Speirs, Shymkiw and Duncan opposed.

Bell said that Pozsar should get the chance to make his case to the commission, but Speirs said, if approved, “this would certainly trigger an avalanche of exclusion applications in the area.”

Municipal councils have the right to reject outright sending an application the land commission, in which case the application is terminated.

Or, councils can forward an application and allow the commission to make a final decision.

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