Pitt Meadows’ application to remove a large tract of farmland from the agricultural reserve was shipped off Tuesday to a volley of protests from one resident.
Although the plan was resoundingly panned by city residents during a public hearing in September, Mayor Deb Walters and Couns. Doug Bing, Tracy Miyashita and Gwen O’Connell supported the exclusion application that will pave the way for development on 50.9 hectares (125 acres) of land in the North Lougheed Corridor.
Couns. Janice Elkerton and David Murray voted against the application, which seeks to exclude 33.1 hectares (81 acres) from the protected agricultural land reserve.
Coun. Bruce Bell does not support the application, but was on vacation during Tuesday’s vote.
Jim Peters, a former alderman and mayoral candidate, loudly questioned the legality of the entire process and interrupted the city’s director of operations Kim Grout while she explained the application procedure.
He was chastised on three occasions for cutting in and warned he would be tossed out of the council meeting.
“Order, order,” Walters said firmly.
“You don’t interrupt our meeting to start voicing your concerns at this point. There was an opportunity at the public hearing.”
The city also received a petition against the exclusion application in September, signed by 157 people, as well as letters that questioned the rationale of building another mall when retail space around the city remains empty.
Other opponents lament the loss of farmland and predict an increase in traffic congestion.
“It seems to me the people of Pitt Meadows have made one heck of a statement,” Peters said after the council meeting.
“Council is not representing the people of Pitt Meadows, they are representing their own pockets.”
The councillors who supported the application were quick to point out that the process has a long history, dating back to 2010, that included a series of open houses, as well as an online survey.
“It wasn’t that we just woke up one morning and just decided to do this,” said O’Connell.
“The two years we spent on this – we spent talking to people, finding out what all groups felt about this.
We did a lot of investigation into this. It’s important that the residents know we did due diligence on this.”
Walters pointed to the council’s strategic plan, which seeks to pursue improvements to the Lougheed corridor, diversify the city’s tax base and create local jobs.
“I believe that this application supports the vision of our strategic plan,” said Walters, who went on to suggest a ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ approach.
“It is not easy to make a request to remove 32 hectares from our 8,825 hectare farmland inventory. With regards to empty store fronts in Pitt Meadows, it takes time and patience. Growth will bring people with needs and demands and those will fill the businesses. If this is approved, it’s not going to happen over night. We are looking at a 10-year build-out.”
The city hopes that developing the entire site will facilitate the construction of the North Lougheed Connector, a road that’s needed to access the commercial strip. The city points to farmers as the main impetus behind the 3.6-kilometre road, which would stretch from Harris to Golden Ears Way. The bill will most likely be footed by developers.
Minutes from the public hearing are being forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission, along with the exclusion application.