Delta’s Southlands farmland fight heats up
Delta’s Southlands saga continues.
This time, the fight over the future of the 217.5-hectare Tsawwassen property is moving to a regional level.
On Friday (March 7), Metro Vancouver’s regional planning and agriculture committee will take up a staff report on a proposed residential and commercial development on the former Spetifore farm.
Delta has requested an amendment to the region’s growth strategy to allow property owner Century Industries Ltd. to build 950 homes and 80,000 square feet of commercial space on a portion of the land.
The redesignation process requires a regional public hearing that is likely to be as contentious as others held over the years in Delta.
In 1989, a development application by a previous owner was turned down by Delta council after a record-setting 25 meetings, the longest public hearing in Canada’s history.
Based on the analysis laid out in the Metro Vancouver staff report by Heather McNell and Jason Smith, regional planning division manager and senior regional planner, respectively, it’s not going to be easy.
According to McNell and Smith, there are “inherent and complex trade-offs” involved. Century Industries Ltd. is proposing to transfer almost 80 percent of the land, or 172 hectares, to Delta. These will be used for agriculture, natural habitat, public open spaces, and greenways.
The developer also intends to donate $9 million to Delta to improve drainage and irrigation for the agricultural land on the site.
Further, if the region amends its regional-growth strategy, Delta, for its part, will move to add portions of the land it will acquire to the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve.
On November 8, 2013, with a 6-1 vote, Delta council approved Century’s Southlands development application. In a letter dated January 14, 2014, and addressed to the Metro Vancouver board, Delta mayor Lois Jackson echoed her council’s majority view that Century’s proposal “presents an unbelievable deal for agriculture in Delta”.
“Approval of the application means certainty for the site,” Jackson wrote. “As 80 percent of the land would be donated to Delta, the usage of the land is ensured through public control.”
It’s a point recognized by McNell and Smith in their report. “There is no doubt that this transfer allows greater control over future land uses in the area on the part of the municipality and would provide closure for a long-standing source of tension in the local community,” the regional planners stated. “Given the municipality’s stated intention of applying to have some of these lands reinstated in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and that these lands are currently in private ownership and therefore ‘at greater risk of development’, this is a significant regional and local gain.”
However, this could set a precedent by establishing the notion that “public ownership of land enhances protection above and beyond regulation alone, and is a substantial community benefit.”
“Given that the vast majority of agricultural lands in the region are privately owned, accepting this amendment could be seen to signal to those land owners that subdividing their property, proposing to develop a small percentage of the land, and dedicating the rest to public ownership is an acceptable, even desirable proposal,” McNell and Smith noted in their report. “This could, on a broader regional level, lead to greater speculation of agricultural land and proposals of this nature, thereby undermining fundamental values inherent in the regional growth strategy.”
The amendment sought by Delta, would reclassify agricultural lands at the former Spetifore farm into general urban, conservation, and recreation areas and extend the municipality’s urban-containment boundary.
A change in the regional growth strategy needs an affirmative two-thirds weighted vote by the Metro Vancouver board.
A public hearing may be held in the last week of April, with a final vote on Delta’s request in May this year.
Century president Sean Hodgins and opponents of the Southlands development are scheduled to speak at the Friday (March 7) meeting of Metro Vancouver’s regional planning and agriculture committee.
Mar 6, 2014 at 1:39pm
This is what happens when foreigners are allowed to buy as much real estate s they want, and not even rent it out. Expansion will continue as long as prices go higher and higher.
Mar 7, 2014 at 2:42pm
The family that owns the Southlands have owned the land for 24 years. The owner and his family live in the land. Hodgins extended family have been farming in delta for 4 generations.