Delta mayoral candidate fights for the future of farmland
Long after the last crop of strawberries and potatoes was harvested at the former Spetifore farm, the future of this once bountiful land remains in bitter contention in Delta.
On the campaign trail for the November 19 municipal election, it's a wedge issue that has clearly defined the candidacy of Krista Engelland, a former long-time councillor who's taking a second crack at the mayor's seat.
“I've made it really clear publicly in writing and speaking that I'm the only candidate that supports the preservation of farmland,” Engelland told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I don't support housing on farmland. And I've been really clear, and the other candidates have waffled on their answers.”
For both proponents and opponents of the redevelopment of the Tsawwassen-area property now commonly referred to as Southlands, it's a matter of some urgency.
On October 17, incumbent mayor Lois Jackson and members of council unanimously voted to approve a staff-recommended public consultation process on an application by owner Century Industries Ltd. to amend the official community plan for the 217 hectares of land.
One of these councillors is Heather King, who is also challenging Jackson for the mayoralty.
Staff had suggested no less than two public information meetings, likely in January and February 2012, on the proposal to develop 20 percent of the property for residential purposes. The developer wants to use 43 hectares to build a mix of housing forms, from cottages to apartments, as well as a farming school.
Century is also proposing to hand over 80 percent of Southlands to the municipality of Delta. It has recommended the following uses for this portion: agricultural (108 hectares), natural habitat (47 hectares), and public open space and greenways (19 hectares).
Although Tsawwassen is only one of the three main communities in Delta, the others being Ladner and North Delta, Engelland believes that the Southlands issue is a significant factor that may determine the outcome of the election.
“This issue, the Southlands, is going to elect the mayor in Tsawwassen or unelect the mayor in Tsawwassen because it is the biggest issue in Tsawwassen,” Engelland said.
The one-time 15-year councillor has been endorsed by Southlands the Facts, a community group that has been campaigning to preserve the now-fallow Spetifore farm for agricultural uses.
“Current council has lost touch with the public,” group organizer Dana Maslovat told the Straight in a phone interview. “It isn't willing to listen anymore, which is why from our point of view we think that we really need a change.”
Southlands the Facts is also supporting the candidacies for council of independents Sylvia Bishop, Scott Broderick, and Andrew Conley. They have promised to protect the land from nonfarm development.
Jackson previously sought a legal opinion that essentially cautioned members of council and candidates against taking categorical public positions on matters like Southlands that will eventually come before council through a public hearing.
“We must take great care in terms of being absolute in this regard,” Jackson told the Straight in a phone interview.
The high-profile mayor, who also chairs the board of Metro Vancouver, reiterated that because of the city's quasi-judicial functions with respect to land uses, members of council must keep an open mind about issues subject to public hearing. Jackson warned that future decisions by council and even individual votes by councillors could be challenged in court if public bias for or against an application has been demonstrated.
In a previous interview with the Straight, King said that she neither completely agrees nor disagrees with Jackson on this point.
Southlands is designated as agricultural land in the city's official community plan, as well as in the current Tsawwassen area plan. It was originally in the Agricultural Land Reserve but was removed from this protected zone through a provincial order-in-council in 1981.
John Meech, the fourth candidate for mayor, was part of a group that previously developed a plan for a community-based organic farming project and residential development on the property. -