The City of Pitt Meadows will submit an application to remove a large tract of farmland from the agricultural reserve, paving the way for commercial development along a green stretch on the north side of Lougheed Highway.
On Tuesday, council voted 4-3 in favour of asking staff to prepare an exclusion application, based on concept pitched in a recent land use study that would see all 50.9 hectares (125 acres) of land developed.
Of the land being considered for development, only 17.5 hectares (43 acres) is zoned highway commercial.
The remaining 32.5 hectares (80 acres) would have to be removed from the provincial agricultural land reserve.
“We want to create jobs close to home,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters, who cast the deciding vote.
“We heard … that our residents want to have a balanced tax base. This helps us achieve that.”
Council’s decision went against the wishes of Pitt Meadows residents who commented on the land use study. They overwhelmingly supported the first option, or Concept A, which set aside 16 hectares (39.5 acres) for farming or other agricultural uses, like a land trust or food processing facility.
Of the three options sketched out by consultants in the study, the ones that set aside land for agricultural uses wouldn’t generate enough money to cover the costs of building the North Lougheed Connector, a road that’s needed to access the commercial strip.
Even the third option, which proposes a mix of uses, including big stores, a hotel or conference centre, showrooms or a business park on the entire 50.9 hectares site, will struggle to meet the costs.
Councillors who voted in favour of paving the entire site, however, were confident the developer would build the North Lougheed Connector, before the site is completely built out. The report, by consultants AECOMM, estimated build-out would take at least a decade.
The city still maintains the connector is being proposed as a way to take traffic off Old Dewdney Trunk Road and point to farmers as the impetus behind the 3.6 kilometre road, which would stretch from Harris Road to Golden Ears Way.
“I think this is a win-win for our community,” Coun. Gwen O’Connell said before voting in support of the exclusion application.
“This is the way we are going to get that road built without costing our taxpayers any money. We have farmers down on Dewdney Trunk hiring flag people at 11 o’clock at night to move the hay off their fields. How irresponsible is this council that we would allow that to occur in our community?”
O’Connell said council would be able to dictate when the road would be built.
“The developer can be told by our council that he has to build the road tomorrow. He doesn’t get to decide when the road goes in.”
Couns. Tracy Miyashita and Doug Bing see potential development of the site as a way to expand the city’s tax base.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to support more employment. We are trying to diversify our economy and take some of the [tax] burden of residents,” said Bing.
Couns. Bruce Bell, Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray voted against exclusion and suggested the city hold off on developing the land.
“It’s far too soon. Any road that goes through there needs to hook up to an interchange at Harris Rd. and Lougheed,” Bell said.
Elkerton proposed the city put stop signs along Dewdney Trunk Road to push traffic off it. She stressed there were no guarantees that the developer would keep a promise to build the road, even if council stipulates it.
“Look at South Bonson,” said Elkerton, pointing to the waterfront development where a chapel and pub were promised but have yet to materialize.
“You may plan to do something, but whether something actually happens is often up to the developer. I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that they would put up this money just to get this site rezoned and out of the agricultural land reserve.”
Murray, meanwhile, worried that the city was slowly pushing its urban boundary into farmland, a fear echoed by environmentalists who opposed construction of the road and development on the site.
“Once you take land out of the agricultural land reserve, you can’t get it back. Once you pave it over, it’s finished. That’s what we have to be aware of,” Murray said.
The road through farmland
Pitt Meadows’s plan to punch a road through farmland was approved by the Agricultural Land Commission in 2010 – with a long string attached.
The commission’s decision requires the city to get covenants assigned to the land titles for each of the properties that will be adjacent to the new road. Those covenants would require each property to remain farmland.
Building the road would occupy seven hectares of farmland and cut in half six parcels, four of which are currently farmed. Another condition required the road to be built within three years to help reduce speculation on farmland in the area.
The city will most likely apply for an extension for the road approval.
City director of operations Kim Grout said the city has asked that the commission reconsider their conditions on the connector.
The commission has indicated they would reconsider the covenants when making a decision on land use in that area.
SmartCentres, parent company to Pitt Meadows Shopping Centres Ltd., owns a large chunk of land stretching from Harris Road to the Meadows Gardens Golf Course along the highway and intends to build a mall on the site.
SmartCentres did not respond when asked if they were willing to fork out $9.5 million to build the road before their property is completely developed.
NDP MLA Michael Sather, who has been a vocal critic of the city’s plans for development, hopes the Agricultural Land Commission does it job by tossing out the city’s exclusion application.
Sather wants the city to come clean to the Agricultural Lands Commission about what he suspect is the real intention for building the road – a connector to serve a yet-to-be built mall.
“If you really want to control traffic put stop signs on Old Dewdney Trunk,” said Sather.