Pitt Meadows council approved third reading of the Golden Ears Business Park bylaw amendments Tuesday, moving forward expansion of the controversial development.
In front of a packed audience at city hall, council voted 5-2 for the amendments to the Official Community Plan, specifically rezoning the land set aside for phases three and four for industrial use.
Those changes now carry additional amendments that were introduced for the first time at the special meeting.
Couns. Bill Dingwall and Tracy Miyashita voted against the reading, as well as most of the additional amendments.
Residents at the meeting were upset about the decision, with many walking out before the meeting had adjourned. A couple of the attendees had tears in their eyes as they moved to the exits.
“I’m shocked, but I’m not surprised,” said Patricia Gordon, who lamented councillors’ resistance to using the land for commercial or residential use, or even a mix of all types.
“All of those opportunities are leaving, and are being replaced with warehouses. It’s a shame.”
It’s been a long and bitter road for the Residents United group that opposes the expansion, which Gordon represents.
A public hearing on June 13 saw over 500 written submissions and 50 speakers, all in opposition to the expansion. A petition created by the group gained over 1,000 signatures.
The hearing and other council meetings focused on the expansion have become heated on both sides. A June 6 meeting saw Mayor John Becker ask RCMP to remove residents for “disorderly” behaviour, including catcalls and applause.
There were officers near the entrance to city hall at Tuesday’s meeting, though their presence had not been requested by the mayor or council.
While there were moments applause broke out — particularly following comments made by Couns. Dingwall and Miyashita — and some catcalls to some comments made by other councilors, the mood was quieter, and almost somber, as council debated the amendments for over three hours.
Coun. Dingwall, who made several appeals throughout the meeting for council to “tap the breaks” and slow down the process, shared the sentiments of many of the residents in the room.
“I’m disappointed, not just for myself but for the citizens, for the community,” he said. “I had a feeling it was going to go this way, [but] this is a sad day for Pitt Meadows.”
The amendments to the main bylaw amendment, which concerned zoning the land for industrial use, were largely informed by concerns raised by councilors to Mayor Becker in the lead-up to Tuesday’s meeting.
Several of them seemed inspired by specific issues raised by citizens at the public hearing, either through written submissions or through speeches delivered to council.
Coun. Miyashita expressed confusion as Mayor Becker introduced the amendments, which weren’t made public ahead of the meeting.
“I wish we had been given these in writing,” she said after the first couple of amendments had been introduced and passed.
The mayor kept the new amendments close to his chest to ensure he wasn’t seen as strategizing ahead of the vote.
Many of the amendments were focused on widening a majority of the buffers around the development, and creating berms in certain areas with mature trees and landscaping in order to minimize noise to the residential areas next door.
Another series of amendments addressed the issue of contaminated soil that was brought in to the fill site years ago.
The quality of the soil has come under scrutiny since plans were unveiled for land on the phase three development site to be set aside for a sports field, which the city would purchase back from the developer, Onni.
Council approved a motion requiring any filling for Phase 4 of the development be done with environmentally-approved structural fill. That requirement was originally a part of the OCP, but was waived for Onni after the developer argued to bring in soil from other developments, citing financial reasons.
A further amendment was introduced by Coun. Dingwall to extend that requirement to the filling of the buffers.
Another amendment requires Onni to pay for any environmental certification of the land, which would be overseen by the city.
All these and other amendments — including requiring fully-lighted intersections around the development, rather than roundabouts, and the approval of a four-metre-wide multi-use path — were approved by council.
The heights of the buildings were also set at 12 metres, which was considered a win for the Residents United group. Onni had previously requested 15-metre building heights.
Coun. Bruce Bell said the amendments show that council had taken citizens’ concerns into account.
“We tried to make it a better project than what it came in as, and we couldn’t have made it a better project if it hadn’t been for the residents involved,” he said.
Coun. Mike Stark stressed that the process is not done yet, as the new amendments still need approval from Onni and city staff, before being brought in front of council again.
“There’s still a lot more to go,” Stark said. “We’ll keep going through the process, and we’ll see where we end up with it.”
The council members that voted for the third reading, including Mayor Becker, said their decision was based on the opportunities created by the money brought in through the development once the business park is fully up and running.
Mayor Becker mentioned public transit, infrastructure, and affordable housing as some of the projects that could get off the ground thanks to the additional tax revenue.
In his remarks before the final vote, he resisted the idea, brought up earlier in the meeting, that the decision would negatively define his legacy, as well as that of the current council.
“I am perfectly prepared to be accountable for my decisions,” he said.
”But I think the most important assessment will be in years to come, with new jobs with shorter commutes and a broader tax base that will give us the resources we need to expand community services.”