Pitt council sticks to plan

Motion to open OCP deferred by council until 2018.

Construction on the north east corner of Harris Road and Airport Way in Pitt Meadows.

Construction on the north east corner of Harris Road and Airport Way in Pitt Meadows.

Pitt Meadows councillors voted down a motion to re-open the official community plan, and some dismissed the suggestion from Coun. Bill Dingwall as an attempt to thwart Onni’s industrial park development plans in South Bonson.

Dingwall made the motion, and it was seconded by Coun. Tracy Miyashita, in front of a council chambers filled with South Bonson residents. Their position was that the document was last rewritten in 2008, and is out of date.

Dingwall said citizens have engaged city hall about Onni’s Golden Ears Business Park, and the company’s proposed townhouse complex for 247 homes.

Conversations about traffic safety and a pedestrian overpass came out of discussions with citizens, he pointed out.

“We have a large number of citizens that are engaged, that have comments in regard to Pitt Meadows – and, in particular, development in Pitt Meadows. And I think we have to pay attention to that,” argued Dingwall.

He said redeveloping residential properties, garden suites and airport expansion are other issues that could be addressed during a review of the OCP.

He also argued that there are 19 acres identified as farmland in the OCP, which are now being developed in Phase 3 of the business park.

Dingwall pointed to the preamble of OCP,  which said council must maintain livability in Pitt Meadows, protect agricultural land, protect the natural environment, and “maintain its unique small town and rural characteristics.”

Coun. Bruce Bell made a motion to defer reviewing the OCP until budget talks in 2018, which was supported by council.

He agreed there are big projects underway in South Bonson, with rezoning changes slated, lots of issues to deal with, and said there may be changes to Onni’s development plans.

“You just don’t open an OCP to think that you can shut down the developers,” asserted Bell.

Onni has completed two of the four phases located on both the north and south sides of Airport Way. Once complete, the project will cover 200 acres with almost four million square feet of industrial space.

Bell said the OCP was reviewed by council during the regional growth strategy in 2013, if not rewritten, and the past several councils have supported it. Tax rates for the city are based on plans in the document, he said.

“That’s been our course,” he added.

“We’ve had guidance from our staff that we don’t need to open it at this time,” Bell responded.

Coun. Janis Elkerton said the development plans in that area have been before the public for more than 20 years.

She said the city had communication from Onni about the issue.

“They’re very concerned that this was opened up,” she said, the company fearing it was a tactic by people who oppose the development plans.

Changing the OCP at this time could have financial and legal implications for the city, she said.

“This is a tactic to delay Onni,” she said.

Dingwall responded that it is not a tactic, but would be important dialogue about the future of the city.

“I’m going to be in Pitt Meadows until I die, so the OCP and the vision for Pitt Meadows is, I think, the most important thing for all of Pitt Meadows,” he said.

Miyashita questions whether the OCP is still relevant, and reflects what people want now.

“It’s our job to represent what the people want,” she said.

Mayor John Becker said the farmland had been the subject of considerable debate, and the city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee was “vehemently opposed” to removing it from protection of the Agricultural Land Reserve, unless it was used to contribute to the economic and social stability of the community for the long term.

He said in 2013 council affirmed the OCP, and opening it would be both time consuming and expensive. It involves hiring consultants, and can take up to two years to complete.

What’s more, the OCP process would not stall development proposals, he said.

“The applicants have the right to move along in their processes.”

Becker said he could appreciate the desire of people to do something about the Onni application.

“Opening up the OCP and all that implies is inappropriate to achieve that goal,” he said.

Becker concluded by saying there is no reason to open the OCP.

“Grappling with garden suites does not require the OCP to be opened.”

And even if there were, staff does not have the capacity to take on the issue at this time, given the need to plan a new system to deliver parks and recreation services by the end of October 2016.

Acting CAO Mark Roberts confirmed that with city hall’s present workload, staff does not have the capacity to rewrite the OCP.

During question period, Jennifer Scharf asked how Onni is able to begin site preparation work on the farmland that makes up part of Phase 3, if it does not yet have rezoning completed – the bylaw has only been given first reading.

Becker answered that the parcel is being subsumed into the business park, and the developer has done nothing illegal.

Area resident Corinne O’Handley noted that developers frequently buy land on speculation, and asked whether the city has any legally binding commitments to Onni.

Becker answered that the city has no legal obligation to grant the company a rezoning.

South Bonson resident Bob Meachen noted that a group has organized and become engaged, and communicates via a Facebook page with about 600 members.

Despite comments about the group having a political agenda, he said its aim is to lobby for its neighbourhood now.

“We want this council, the one we have elected, the one we voted for, to do the right thing for south Pitt Meadows,” said Meachen.

“Most of the folks here this evening are not against development. Some folks would love to see those fields left green. But most folks understand that Onni has made an investment, Onni wants to make a return, we understand that. But we would like to see something that benefits the whole community, not just the developer.”