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Update: Savage, Roddick speak against including Southlands in the ALR
Two prominent members of South Delta's agricultural community and political history spoke against applying to have the Southlands included in the Agricultural Land Reserve Wednesday evening (March 2).
That night was the second of a public hearing where more than 90 people have signed up so far to have their say on the controversial issue often characterized as divisive to the community.
In February, Delta's Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie recommended to Delta Council all land in Tsawwassen zoned agricultural within the Official Community Plan and within Metro Vancouver's Green Zone be put forth to the Agricultural Land Commission for ALR inclusion. That includes approximately 580 acres in south Tsawwassen known as the Southlands.
Harvie said including the Southlands in the ALR would not change its permitted land uses, and provide a superior level of regulatory protection and control consistent with the other agricultural lands in Delta.
The majority of the Southlands was included in the ALR in 1973, and later removed in 1981 after the council at the time requested its exclusion and received a provincial order-in-council.
John Savage, former B.C. Minister of Agriculture and member of a longtime farming family in Delta, said he does not understand why the proposal is on the table.
His family farmed the Southlands, also known as the Spetifore Lands, for five years, growing peas and beans.
"We lost valuable pea crops and bean crops—you know why? Because the sand always got so hot it burned the stems, and they died," he said, adding the peas were hard and rejected by processors.
Savage, noting he spoke on behalf of himself and not the Delta Farmers' Institute of which he is president, added he is disturbed by the lack of respect he's witnessed in debates surrounding the land.
"And I'm really troubled by the attitude of some of these people who think the Hodgins family (the majority owner of the Southlands) shouldn't make money. My God, you'd be a fool if you went into business with not having the idea of making money," he said.
Former Delta South MLA Val Roddick, who chaired the B.C. Agriculture Plan committee a few years ago, said returning the Southlands to the ALR would have "enormous consequences" to Delta taxpayers.
She said the application would expose Deltans to financial risks, among those "compensation to the landowners and the litigation costs that will certainly go with it" and "the cost of an irrigation scheme necessary to allow Southlands to meet modern agricultural needs."
Roddick added, "My concern regarding the council's recent decision is it's been reached without the participation of any other level of government, any of the area land owners, or in fact any of the stake holders associated with Southlands, something which is highly unusual for a request of this nature."
The prior evening, after hearing from speakers on proposed Tsawwassen Area Plan amendments (see story here), the first handful of residents to the podium spoke in favour of including the Southlands in the ALR.
A number referred to an Ipsos Reid survey sent out to Tsawwassen residents last June when 62 per cent of respondents replied they want agriculture to be the only permitted use of the Southlands.
Said Save the Southlands co-founder Dana Maslovat, "Inclusion in the ALR would ensure the community's wishes are met for the foreseeable future."
On Wednesday evening, Sylvia Bishop, who ran for council in the fall byelection, supported the proposed ALR inclusion application.
She said it would go a long way to preserving Tsawwassen's semi-rural atmosphere and retaining farmland and open space, two policy statements in the current Tsawwassen Area Plan.
"This particular farmland was left fallow in the hope people would buy into the idea that it couldn't be farmed because it wasn't farmed," she said.
Others spoke of the importance of preserving Tsawwassen's natural environment.
But that evening there were more speakers at the podium sporting lime green shirts stating their opposition to the proposed ALR inclusion application than those in favour.
A number of them were concerned what the cost to taxpayers would be for proper drainage and irrigation of the land.
Tsawwassen resident Meg Neufeld said the discussion seems premature, as many people don't feel they have enough information about the land and its potential challenges to make an informed decision.
Others lauded Century Group president Sean Hodgins' conceptual design plan for a mix of residential units, farmland and community amenities on the Southlands as a forward-thinking model that should be given a chance through proper consultation.
Speaker Ian Kent said it seems to him both sides are fighting for the same thing: agriculture.
"The difference is that one side does not have a plan to actually enable farming to be done. Where are all those farmers lining up to get their chance to farm this land? Who can afford it?
"The Southlands plan does provide some innovative ideas to realistically farm the land without costing a lot of money for draining, irrigating, amendments, et cetera, that will be required, costs that will be borne by the owner, not Delta taxpayers."
Council also received a few hundred items of written correspondence. As of Wednesday, staff had counted 91 in support of including the Southlands in the ALR, 23 expressing concern, and 242 in opposition.
The public hearing continues this evening (Thursday), 7 p.m. at the South Delta Recreation Centre.
Once the public hearing process is complete, council will decide whether to apply to have all, some or none of the Southlands included in the ALR.