An aerial view of the Pelton property, showing the greenhouses for the tree farm that was operated by the former owner. (files)

OUTLOOK: Golden Eagle business park plan ‘not slippery slope situation’

Proposed development on former Pelton property.

  • Nov. 26, 2018 8:00 a.m.

The land known as the Pelton property represents a significant economic opportunity for Maple Ridge, but its future lies in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission.

Golden Eagle Group, a subsidiary of the Aquilini Investment Group, has been given the blessing of Maple Ridge council to pursue having this 56-acre parcel, located near the entrance to the Golden Ears Bridge, removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Former mayor Nicole Read said in July, when the plan was approved, that “jobs are important.”

The Aquilini Investment Group, best known as the owners of the Vancouver Canucks NHL franchise, hase also put together a championship agriculture team in their Golden Eagle Group. Its blueberry and cranberry crops, along with a hardwood tree nursery, covering almost 5,000 acres in Pitt Meadows, make it one of the biggest farms in the province.

The Pelton Property is a 202-acre parcel at the corner of Golden Ears Way and 203rd Street. It was formerly owned by the Pelton family, which operated a tree nursery at the site. The Pelton family proposed to develop the site, but was refused by the ALC in 2010.

Rather than trying to have the entire 202-acre parcel removed from the ALR, Golden Eagle is proposed to remove a 56-acre parcel for a business park development. It would potentially contain a film studio and temporary accommodations for movie industry professionals, which would employ an estimated 925 people, according to a report by city hall staff.

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.

The proposal is also to remediate the rest of the land to restore it to productive agricultural land. It has been damaged by greenhouses and other buildings, driveways and concrete slabs.

The company would then replace the 56 acres removed from the ALR with a parcel of land the same size in Pitt Meadows, seven kilometres away near Sheridan Hill. It is productive farmland, already growing blueberries, but it is not protected in the ALR.

Jim Chu, with Golden Eagle, explained the company’s proposal has been submitted to the ALC as paperwork.

In the future, the company will get an opportunity to make a presentation to the ALC in person, and the ALC will also visit the site before making a decision.

He believes Golden Eagle has a good chance of being granted an exclusion.

“The land we want to exclude is not farmable – it’s damaged by the tree farm,” said Chu, and added that the entire proposal is a net gain to the farm community.

“It’s really good for agriculture,” he said. “And it creates badly needed local jobs – well-paying jobs.”

Detractors of the plan, whose goal is to protect farmland, have said this property could be the first domino to fall, to be followed by other properties in the area.

Chu said other applicants won’t be able to craft a proposal like Golden Eagle’s.

“Our proposal is unique. We are not land speculators, we are B.C.’s largest cash crop farmer [by dollar value],” he said.

He said other parcels of land have not been identified by city hall as desirous for industrial development, and other developers are unlikely to have farmland that is not in the ALR to exchange.

“This is not a slippery slope type of situation,” he said.

“And three quarters of that site will remain as productive farmland.”

Maple Ridge Coun. Gordy Robson, a former mayor, was part of council when the exclusion proposal was at city hall in the past. He said the latest proposal is a good one.

There will be significant agriculture land use at the site, but it will still be an asset to the city as a business park.

“It’s going to be good for the city, absolutely,” said Robson. “People hate to commute to work. To eat, work and play in your own neighbourhood is how you become a sustainable community.

“I’m not sure what the Agricultural Land Commission is going to say to the largest farmer in B.C.,” he added. “If anyone is going to make gains there, it will probably be the Aquilini family.”

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