Pitt Meadows’ plan to spur development on a large tract of undeveloped farmland along Lougheed Highway will be sent to Metro Vancouver despite pointed criticism at a public hearing Tuesday.
Of the 18 speakers who expressed their views, six supported the city’s plans for the 50-hectare area, located northeast of the highway and Harris Road.
“We are only here tonight because the [Agricultural Land Commission], after years of careful consideration, made the decision to move forward with exclusion based on the city’s proposed concept for the area,” said Dave Major, a manager with SmartCentres, a company which owns a large chunk of land in the corridor and bills itself as Canada’s largest developer and operator of “unenclosed shopping centres.”
Major then touted a possible tax windfall for the city, should the entire stretch turn commercial, a plan which won’t be realized for decades.
“It has the potential to create 600,000 square feet of new retail commercial space and two million square feet of mixed employment uses,” he said. “This, in turn, could generate up to 1,200 new retail jobs and, more importantly, for a growing community like Pitt Meadows, over 9,000 new office and industrial jobs.”
The city hopes that developing the entire site will facilitate the construction of the North Lougheed Connector, a road that’s needed to access the commercial strip. The city points to farmers and regional traffic as the main impetus behind the 3.6-kilometre road, which would stretch from Harris Rd. to Golden Ears Way.
The city’s former fire chief, Bill Park, who owns 36.7 hectares in the area, echoed the comments of SmartCentres.
“This is not about building a mall or a road, it’s about insuring the financial security of the City of Pitt Meadows for probably the next 20 years,” he said.
The Agricultural Land Commission granted the exclusion of 33.1 hectares (81 acres) with four caveats, including further protection of farmland in other parts of the city, a required change in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, and beginning construction of the North Lougheed Connector within three years of the ALC’s acceptance of a traffic-calming plan for Old Dewdney Trunk Road.
Opponents of the city’s plans, however, condemned council for pushing ahead, citing the loss of farmland, as well as the habitat for sandhill cranes and the potential for taxpayers to be saddled with a bill in the millions for a road and resulting interchange.
Sandi Banni, a realtor who lives next to the strip, criticized Coun. Doug Bing for staying on council to push through a vote in favour of amending the city’s official community plan and asking Metro Vancouver to include the North Lougheed land within its urban boundary.
Banni has asked the ALC to review its exclusion decision, a request that was to be considered by the commission this week.
“I am so disgusted by what is going on here,” said Banni, who also presented a petition with 600 names.
“Doug Bing is now a MLA and he represents Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. You cannot wear two hats.”
In a 4-3 vote, council moved its plans to the next step, which will see the North Lougheed proposal land on the desk of Metro Vancouver municipalities.
“I don’t feel like we’ve rushed this. This has been in the works for years,” said Coun. Tracy Miyashita, who voted to support the OCP amendment.
Couns. Bruce Bell, Dave Murray and Janis Elkerton were against the OCP amendment as they believe the development will end up costing taxpayers and not create “family-sustaining” jobs.
“Commercial development won’t pay the way. It’s industrial development we need to focus on,” said Elkerton.
Bell noted that more roads won’t do anything for traffic congestion.
“This has just been a reason to get land out of the agricultural land [reserve],” he said.
“This is a pipe dream. I think it’s a facade.”