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MAPLE RIDGE – BC’s Lower Mainland is a land divided, thanks in large part to the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve following the election of Dave Barrett as premier 45 years ago this year.

One of the new government’s first acts was a freeze on the subdivision of farm properties, and a few months later the Agricultural Land Reserve came into being – instantly focusing the longing eyes of developers on what they could no longer have.

Conversely, some parcels outside the newly created reserve were being farmed and their zoning for other uses set the stage for an outcry when farming stopped and other activities began.

The latest flashpoint is north of the Fraser in the municipalities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, where plans are afoot to develop lands many believe should stay as farmland.

The former Pelton lands in Maple Ridge sits within the Agricultural Land Reserve and repeated bids to remove it for development have met opposition from council.

Now, Aquilini Investment Group has received approval to proceed with public consultations on the future of the site, an initiative set to heat up this spring. An online petition has garnered close to 1,300 signatures opposing the project but has seen little activity since last fall.

Aquilini’s consultations will seek public feedback on plans to redevelop the site with film studios and a hotel for what Aquilini calls “a well-known and established film production studio.” The project will create 3,300 jobs on completion and 500 jobs in the interim – far more than the former nursery site currently employs.

Documents provided to Maple Ridge staff claim that greenhouse vegetable production isn’t sustainable on the site, with one grower seeking to relocate and growth of another limited by local water supplies. The majority of the greenhouse production on site – 18 acres – is for bedding plants and cedars.

Adjacent parcels are used for dairy and forage production, as well as Asian vegetables, and won’t be affected, Aquilini claims.

Aquilini’s bid to exclude the lands for development will include a proposal to swap in a greater acreage, ensuring that the release of land is more than offset by the inclusion of productive land.

“As farmers, we have the expertise and experience to guarantee that the new ALR inclusion lands are farmed, thus improving net overall food output,” Aquilini, one the province’s largest berry growers, has told Maple Ridge.

(Aquilini did not respond to a request for comment from Country Life in BC.)

Light industrial park

Meanwhile, in Pitt Meadows, Onni Group is pursuing expansion of Golden Ears Business Park, a light industrial project that has enjoyed significant success.

Many local residents have told the city they believe the development will negatively impact adjacent residential developments as well as eliminate potential farmland from ever being farmed.

The properties aren’t in the ALR and account for just 0.6% of the local agricultural land base. They’re designated for industrial development within both the Pitt Meadows community plan and Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy.

With growing populations, securing jobs space for local residents is important to mayors such as Maple Ridge’s Nicole Read, who told commercial real estate association NAIOP last fall that she believes such projects are critical to her community’s future.

“We’re very interested in converting land to commercial-industrial,” she said. “[We] will engage our community on how important it is to make sure that we create more commercial and industrial lands.”

It sounds like a confrontational statement, but in the context of where industrial development can occur in the Lower Mainland, it’s also true.

A 1999 agreement between Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. allows the companies to share tracks between Matsqui and Nepa, just south of Ashcroft. Trains heading east from Vancouver travel on CP tracks while westbound traffic uses CN tracks. This has largely limited the development of major logistics facilities to areas west of Matsqui; areas east of the junction typically see uses that aren’t related to the port, such as manufacturing and storage.

Increased pressure

This has boosted pressure on farmers in Richmond, Delta and Surrey, especially since the South Fraser Perimeter Road opened in 2013. Half of all new industrial space in Metro Vancouver is now being developed in Delta and Surrey, CBRE Ltd. senior vice-president Chris MacCauley recently reported in a breakfast presentation to Delta mayor and councillors.

To the east, Chilliwack announced a new Molson brewery last summer with nary a word of opposition.

Growth of Deltaport and replacement of the Massey tunnel with a bridge – as well as associated reconfiguration of local interchanges – will add to development pressures south of the Fraser.

This promises to send smaller users who want to be near the centre of the region to areas further north and east, spurring the kinds of development pressures Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are seeing.

Kleo Landucci, general manager of Ashcroft Terminal, an inland port near Nepa where the CN and CP rail lines diverge, thinks facilities such as hers could alleviate some of the development pressure facing Lower Mainland growers.

“You look at the proposed ALR land in Delta that Ron Emerson, Joe Segal are looking to take out. That facility is going to be truck-in, truck-out,” she says. “Why would you do that there?”

With a significant proportion of goods put on rail for destinations across the continent, she thinks it makes sense for some of the activity to take place inland, as currently happens with container shipments entering via Prince Rupert. Those that aren’t loaded on unit trains heading to Chicago are often processed at inland intermodal facilities in Terrace and Prince George.

Similarly, she believes goods destined for export could be containerized at inland ports and sent to water via rail for loading onto ships.

“We have to look throughout the supply chain in BC and into Alberta,” she said. “If we can do it more cost-effectively somewhere else, let’s work together.”

Pressures increasing north of Fraser [Peter Mitham]

CLBC February 2017

Vol.103 Issue 5
MARCH  2017

CLBC March 2017