South Bonson residents opposed to expansion of the Golden Ears Business Park told council it is not good planning to develop light industrial lands so close to their neighbourhood.
The 50 gallery chairs at Pitt Meadows city hall were full, and about that many people were standing, as council heard residents voice complaints and concerns for almost two hours at a public input meeting Tuesday.
In total, the business park will expand to 200 acres, and approximately four million square feet.
Once completed, it will be the largest single-owner business park in B.C. – although Surrey’s Campbell Heights is much larger, covering 1,900 acres, with several owners.
The first two phases of the approved development are on the north and south sides of Airport Way, between Harris and Baynes roads. Phases 3 and 4 will be on the east side of Harris Road, south of Fieldstone Walk and north of Fraser Way. The sites are bisected by Airport Way.
Randy Shaw said the area is bordered by sports fields and parks, and should be surrounded by families.
“It should be all family residences through that area.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the night.
“Why is the rezoning of these lands from agricultural to industrial even being considered,” asked Patricia Gordon.
She said the website for Onni, the business park developer, reads as if development approval for the next two phases is done, and that some site preparation has already started.
“Does Onni know something that we don’t,” said Gordon. “To me, the optics look bad. Real bad.”
Ron Bennewith said: “We don’t owe Onni anything.”
Terry Walton compared the business park expansion to the proposed Sheridan Hill Quarry, which council is opposing based on the noise, truck traffic and environmental degradation.
Council cited the removal of vegetation and disturbance to area residents as reasons to oppose the quarry, and Walton said the same factors that justify opposition to the quarry are relevant to phases three and four of the business park.
“You’ve built this beautiful community, and now you’re going to inundate it with concrete buildings and transport trucks,” said Walton.
Jeff Campbell warned of “an imposing, fortress-like skyline,” and said the scale and density of the project are shocking.
“Let’s make sure we keep it Pitt Meadows, and not let it become Onni Meadows,” said Campbell.
Kevin Patry said he doesn’t want to see Pitt Meadows turn into Annacis Island.
“It scares me to the point where I want to move,” said the resident of Wildwood Crescent. “We’re changing the face of our city. We’re changing the look, we’re changing the feel.”
Murray Steele said the beefier between Fieldstone Walk and the next phase of the business park is only 20 metres, and that’s too close for him.
Jennifer Scharf said once the second phase is built, the city will already have significant industrial development and doesn’t need the tax revenue from the third and fourth phases.
“Phases three and four are not the only ways of balancing the budget.”
A Facebook group called “Residents United – Golden Ears Business Park Expansion” has 478 members.
Becker said the feedback collected at the open house will be collated into a report from staff.
The business park expansion lands are currently zoned agricultural in the city’s official community land, but have had that designation removed by the province.
It is up to the city whether to rezone the lands to light industrial so the development can proceed.
Coun. Bruce Bell said a pedestrian overpass, just west of the roundabout at Harris Road and Airport Way, could help to alleviate safety concerns stated by area residents.
Council could require Onni to construct it.
“For me, safety in that area has to be looked at. There’s parks and young families. A pedestrian overpass would be very helpful,” Bell said.
Furthermore, he would like to see Airport Way widened in places to accommodate turn lanes in the new developments along it.
Bell also said that, as part of the development, Katzie Slough could be funneled through culverts and the land it runs through reclaimed.
“I took away the word ‘balance’ – it has to be balanced,” said Bell. “Things can be done down there, but it needs to be thought out. It doesn’t need to be a concrete jungle.”
Coun. Janis Elkerton echoed that sentiment, saying a proposed variance allowing the industrial buildings to be 15m high, instead of 12m permitted by the city, is not acceptable.
And setbacks will need to be larger, she added.
“There are opportunities to do this well.”
Elkerton said the land has been slated for industrial development in city plans since she first was elected to council in 1993, because of its proximity to the airport.
“You’re in the flight path of an airport.”
She noted that council was not yet at the public hearing stage, but chose to hold the town hall meeting on the South Bonson development.
“We knew there was controversy with it,” she said. “This council is trying to engage the community.”
Originally the hearing was to be limited to one hour, but council voted unanimously to lift the limit, and the meeting went until almost 11 p.m.
‘Short on space’
Sveto Zvijerac, who leases business park buildings for Onni, said the inventory of available light industrial space in Metro Vancouver is too small, and that drives some businesses to places like Calgary.
He said the absorption of the Phase 1 of the Golden Ears Business Park was “beyond expectation.”
Phase 1 has 750,000 square feet of industrial space among 32 tenants, with the largest tenancy being 120,000 square feet, and the smallest 2,600.
It brought 550 jobs, he said.
Some of the companies that have moved to Pitt Meadows: LKQ Keystone, which deals in recycled auto parts; Euro-rite Cabinets, which manufactures kitchen cabinets; and Maurice Sporting Goods, which provide products to Canadian Tire and Walmart.
Some relocating tenants worried that they might lose employees in the move, said Zvijerac, but found that those employees are moving to the area, and that they can afford to buy homes here, whereas before they were renting in Coquitlam and other communities.
Businesses in Burnaby and Coquitlam have been the main tenants.
Phase 2 has the potential to bring even more jobs, said Zvijerac, because it is larger at 1.2 million square feet. Phases 3 and 4 would each add a million square feet of light industrial space.
The uptake of all of this space will be an estimated six to nine years, he said.
“It’ll put Pitt Meadows on the map for employment and industrial real estate.”
Phase 2, already approved, will be nine buildings, and the first two are already 75 per cent pre-booked, said Zvijerac.
That’s unusual because most tenants want to walk through their new base of operations before committing to it, but it shows the level of demand, he added.