Group makes pre-emptive defence of agricultural land

A full gallery at Municipal Hall gave loud applause to Wayne Vandenbrink's anti-ALR exclusion speech

There seemed to be some confusion around a local ALR exclusion application that has been submitted by a landowner in the Agassiz area Monday night at the District of Kent’s (DOK) regular meeting.

But Deputy Mayor Sylvia Pranger’s last line of a detailed explanation of the District’s role in the process summed it up: “We are not making decisions tonight.”

Far from it: she listed the lengthy process (including a public meeting) that will take place before any conclusion.

Her clarification preceded the scheduled presentation of local resident Wayne Vandenbrink to address council as a delegation opposing the exclusion of 6680 Fooks Road from the ALR.

Vandenbrink, declaring his role as representative for Aberdeen Village, proceeded with his message in front of a full gallery of over 50 people in the Centennial Centre at Municipal Hall.

“I understand we may be a touch premature, but we do want to make our case known sooner rather than later,” he said. “I do want to let people know how important ALR land is to this community in particular.”

Vandenbrink and—based on the applause after his presentation—most people in the gallery feel that development on prime ALR farmland should be avoided.

He pointed to Chilliwack as an example of keeping ALR land intact for farming.

“They’ve been building on mountains and densifying current residential neighbourhoods,” he said. “I think they’re doing a fantastic job with that. I think we can take a page out of their book.”

More specifically to his own home’s neighbourhood at Aberdeen, Vandenbrink is worried about the traffic new homes would bring and the effect those vehicles would have on the safety of children.

“I wanted to live in a small town rural community, a nice tight community where people know your name,” he said. “Agassiz is that community, I moved here for that purpose. Many people move here for that purpose.”

But there’s also a feeling that buyers in Vandenbrink’s subdivision were misled by developers and real estate agents, he said.

Residents were promised that, with the premium they were paying for their homes and lots adjacent to the property in question, no development would happen in at least 15 or 20 years.

Similar sentiments have been submitted to this newspaper and posted on social media about another property that is in application for an ALR exclusion.

The land known as the “teacup” properties surrounded by the Agassiz-Rosedale Highway to the west, McDonald Road to the north and Haig Highway on the east and south is also in separate consideration for an ALR exclusion.

That 7076 McDonald Road property fuelled a major land use debate in 2005 when the Gateway Neighbourhood Plan was unveiled to build high density housing on the agricultural territory.

The District of Kent council at that time voted unanimously against bylaws that might have paved the way for the development to go through.

There is some support for the exclusions.

The District of Kent received 14 letters in favour of the Fooks Road application before its Feb. 22 meeting and another 12 leading up to Monday’s meeting.

However, that’s compared to a total of 16 letters against the exclusion during the same period and two petitions with a combined 121 signatures also in opposition.

As for the present-day McDonald Road application, only one letter was in support before this week’s meeting with six submitted against the exclusion.

Vandenbrink’s delegation about Fooks Road was self-admittedly hasty, but echoes the written reactions in their urgency and concern.

Pranger reassured the gathered crowd on Monday that proper local procedures will be followed.

“The Agricultural Land Commission requires that a sign be posted on the property and the owners publish a notice in the newspaper for two weeks,” she said. “The owners to date have not made an application to council. Prior to council considering an ALC exclusion application, there will be a public information meeting which will include a neighbourhood plan for the property under question.”

Since the district was only recently notified of the exclusion applications, a date for a public meeting hasn’t been set yet, according to Pranger.

There still needs to be a review of the application to ensure that it is complete and information is required for the neighbourhood plan.

All comments from staff and all external agencies must be referred and a review by the DOK’s agricultural advisory committee with its recommendation to council will then be considered.

Following those steps, there will be a public consultation and then finally a council review, said Pranger.

 

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