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Developing Delta: The rebirth of Tilbury
If the Agricultural Land Reserve has saved Delta's farms from being paved over, then one could argue that Tilbury Industrial Park is an industrial land reserve that saved large parcels from being sold off and converted to strip malls.
The idea of an industrial land reserve was first floated by Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester last December, citing the need for the region to preserve its rapidly shrinking industrial lands.
More than 3,000 hectares of industrial land has been rezoned in the last 30 years in Metro Vancouver in just Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond, he noted.
Delta's industrial lands may have been lost as well, had Mayor Lois Jackson succumbed to the lobbying pressures of commercial developers frustrated by stagnation in the area.
Sid Keay, president of Ocean Trailer on River Road East, watched the whole revitalization of Tilbury unfold in the eight years since he purchased 6 hectares of land three kilometres west of the Alex Fraser Bridge.
In that time, Keay moved his entire headquarters to Delta from Coquitlam to take advantage of a land deal and tax freeze that afforded him the opportunity to build a $30 million, 30,000-square-metre (100,000-square-foot) facility on prime industrial land.
"Lois [Jackson] was under tremendous pressure to convert this to commercial [zoning]," he said. "And where we moved from in Coquitlam that happened there and so they built casinos and big box retail. Well, those things are great developments when they're building them, but once they're built what they create is a whole bunch of minimum wage jobs."
Keay said commercial developments bring a "short-term win" but a long-term pain of low-paying jobs that devalues Delta's economy.
But the revitalization of Tilbury Industrial Park didn't happen overnight.
In 1999 there was a fire at the largest of the many privately-owned landfill sites in the industrial park, burning two million cubic metres of demolition and construction waste. By the time the flames died down a state of emergency had been declared and a toxic plume of smoke hovered over the the entire region, contaminating ditches and ground water.
The landowner went bankrupt as a result, leaving the province with a $4 million bill, and the Corporation of Delta with a toxic, uncapped landfill. Leachate and landfill gas was seeping into the Fraser River and Burns Bog.
And that was just one of many located along River Road East.
"Something had to be done with all these landfills out here," said Keay. "One of the problems with these things is there's been so many starts and stops and people would bail."
Industrial developers weren't interested in buying land there because the landfills were a liability and physical impediment. Meanwhile, the cost of cleanup was more than the properties were worth.
Keay owned a sliver of the former Delta Shake and Shingle landfill. Initially he had planned to develop only a small branch of his company in Delta. But then opportunity knocked.
In 2009 the province began construction on the South Fraser Perimeter Road which involved engineering works that could be leveraged to clean up the area.
Delta offered an opportunity whereby if Ocean Trailer agreed to close the landfill and relocate their business headquarters they'd get consolidated lands totalling 16 hectares for a nominal fee.
He and other land owners took advantage of the opportunities around the construction of the Gateway project and worked with the provincial ministries of environment and transportation to achieve closure and revitalize their lands.
The move was a part of Mayor Jackson's "Save Our Industrial Lands" initiative, a project that successfully saw the capping and sealing of all the landfills along River Road East. For that initiative, she earned the 2012 "Brownfielder of the Year" award for her vision.
Keay said saving the industrial lands will generate huge "spinoff" benefits for the economy in ways that have yet to be measured.
"That economy that drives a municipality or a city like Delta, that you can all of a sudden have 100 jobs that make $50,000 to $100,000 a year in their neighbourhood," he said. "They can live where they work. That's huge."