Graphic/Adam Louis

Tensions, opinions run high during Tuesday’s Teacup meeting

Opinions on all sides aired at packed Friendship House gathering

Tense, opinionated and undoubtedly civil described the most recent Teacup Properties meeting on Tuesday night, continuing the latest chapter in a decades-long land debate.

This week’s meeting took place at the Friendship House with a crowd of at least 100 packing the room as row after row of extra chairs had to be deployed. All were there to voice their opinion to district representatives about the proposed exclusion of the Teacup properties from the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR).

Background

The embattled acreage just outside the current Agassiz town site has been the subject of heated arguments for several years. The land exclusion proposal has come before the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) a number of times over the last few decades, but the ALC has shut it down each time.

RELATED: KAAC won’t back Kent’s Teacup properties plans

Simply put, there are two main arguments as to what to do with the property for the future of the District of Kent. On one hand, its agricultural significance is difficult to deny as it is very high-class farmland when it comes on to quality, making it valuable for sustainable food growth into the future. On the other hand, the land is adjacent to the current Agassiz town site, making it an ideal location for development of further housing without compromising the current look of the town.

During their meeting in late February, the Kent Agricultural Advisory Committee (KAAC) declined a motion to support the District of Kent’s application to remove the properties from the ALR. An alternative motion was defeated in much the same way, with the committee voting against taking more time to gather more information concerning the property. The main reason for the defeat of the second motion was the approaching deadline of Tuesday evening’s public meeting left little wiggle room to gather information.

The most recent proposal from the applicant asks for 17.26 hectares from the Teacup properties to be replaced with 40.8 hectares of lower grade farmland along with donation of topsoil from Teacup and a $3 million contribution toward amenities in the community.

This week’s meeting

Prior to the question period, district staff tied to engage with the public a chance to choose how they would like the $3 million contribution to be spent in the form of an interactive ballot. Proposed projects included an indoor pool facility and park and trail improvements. There were not many takers, but a few residents were curious enough to give it a try.

RELATED: LETTER: Clarifying the ALC Block Exclusion Application

Prior to a question period that stretched to about an hour and a half, there was a presentation of a video explaining the history of the project. Many residents thought the video was disingenuous and skewed toward the development side of the argument over agricultural needs – as evidenced by quiet, sporadic heckling throughout the video and commentary during the question session. The part of the video that seemed to strike a rather personal nerve with the largely older audience stated that as the population got older, there would be a need for senior home and medical accommodations in the future.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The first resident up to the mic asked if this land proposal was going to go to referendum or if “it was going to be shoved down our throats like the water line was,” which was met with applause throughout.

“We are an agricultural town,” one resident said. “We are not going to become a bedroom community.”

The audience had to be reminded several times throughout the meeting to refrain from applause or booing for the sake of the speakers.

Several residents condemned the proposed $3 million contribution as a bribe from the developers. They argued that even if something like an aquatic rec centre were to come from this, the operational costs would mean the people would end up paying for it in the end.

Many members of the public were concerned with the erosion of the soil. The Teacup properties are currently being used to grow cedar, which typically takes the topsoil with it when they are uprooted and it’s not clear if the fertile topsoil is in the process of being replaced.

A resident of Chilliwack who commutes to Agassiz for work said he believes agricultural land, especially of this quality, is finite, and as long as it’s looked after, it can offer food security for generations.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

“Any community that stands still goes backwards.”

There were a few supporters of development among the crowd. One woman said that given the land was reserved as residential property during previous handlings of the Teacup properties that the commitment to residential development should be honoured.

“Agassiz definitely needs room to grow as its population is increasing, and I think the time is now,” she said.

Another supporter said that farming is changing and the community must be willing to adapt. He said the $3 million contribution should at least for the most part be used to help improve the remaining agricultural land.

“Any community, any business that stands still goes backwards,” he added.

“But what are the alternatives?”

There were a few residents who adopted a more neutral stance, such as one member of the public who said they were going about this all wrong.

“We should ask what kind of benefits do we need from the community and what’s the best way to achieve those goals as opposed to looking at the land and saying ‘Here are the benefits.’”

“We can’t turn back the clocks or stop growth in effect,” another resident said. “I’m not really in agreement with this, but at the end of the day, it does help our community. But what are the alternatives?”

Another member of the public suggested the town site should grow up in a literal sense – with high-rise residences and condos in some areas. This was met with much heckling despite the question period rules that asked otherwise.

What happens now?

Members of the public were concerned the District of Kent Council had already made up its mind to support development given the apparently biased video presentation, the wording of feedback surveys and the way information was presented during Tuesday’s meeting . Coun. Stan Watchorn said while there is a tendency among district staff to support development, the council will take the feedback received at the meeting into consideration before their decision is finalized.

Watchorn stressed that unless the community is in favour of the exclusion application, the ALC “will not deal with it.”

“Were in the middle of this, from my perspective,” Watchorn said of the Council.

Read complete coverage online at www.agassizharrisonobserver.com.

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