Metro Vancouver to vote on Southlands farmland in Delta
History is going to be replayed Thursday (May 1) at the Burnaby offices of Metro Vancouver.
On that day, the regional authority will hold a public hearing on a plan to build homes on the contentious Southlands in Delta.
It won’t be the first time that it has attempted to decide the future of the Tsawwassen-area property once known as the Spetifore farm. That was 33 years ago. In 1981, the former Greater Vancouver Regional District rejected an application to rezone the land for housing development in return for an offer by then-owner George Spetifore to donate land for a public park.
In this continuing saga, Richmond councillor Harold Steves has had a front-row seat.
Steves cofounded B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve during his time as an MLA. Presently the concurrent vice-chair of the district’s regional planning and agriculture committee, which will conduct the public hearing, he’s worried about how the next chapter will go down.
“Back in 1981, Metro Vancouver said, ‘This is a very serious regional issue,’ ” Steves told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “What I’m hearing from my colleagues [now] is, ‘Oh, this is a Delta issue.’ ”
Steves wasn’t on the GVRD board in 1981 when he made a presentation against the development plan before the regional authority. That was a year after the provincial government removed 211 hectares of the Spetifore properties from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Spetifore had offered 94 hectares of nonagricultural land in another parcel for Boundary Bay Regional Park. In an extremely close (33-32) weighted vote, GVRD directors decided to maintain the regional designation of the 211 hectares as farmland.
Steves recalled that inn 1990, the Spetifore lands were acquired by the late George Hodgins for about $15 million.
Hodgins was the founder of Century Industries Ltd., the company that now wants to build 950 homes and commercial spaces on a portion of the land.
There’s a rub, according to Steves. In 1999, Metro Vancouver paid Hodgins about $7.5 million for the 94 hectares that were originally offered for free by Spetifore. The land now forms part of Boundary Bay Regional Park.
“We paid Mr. Hodgins half of the value of the entire farm,” Steves said.
In 2012, Century Industries initiated the current development proposal. It has been approved by the municipality of Delta but would require an amendment of Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy.
It will be interesting to see how City of Vancouver councillors vote. With seven seats, they are the board’s biggest block.
Although history often repeats itself, Steves isn’t sure about the outcome this time. He said that many on the current board think, “Oh, this has been around for 30 years. Let’s let it go. ”