Tsawwassen Area Plan public hearing to stretch into fourth night
With 40 or so people currently left on the speaker's list, the Tsawwassen Area Plan public hearing is scheduled to stretch into a fourth session next Monday (March 7) night at Delta Municipal Hall.
Last night's (March 3) meeting at the South Delta Recreation Centre was near evenly split when it came to counting those in support or against Delta Council's proposal to return the 500-plus Southlands property back into the Agricultural Land Reserve.
One of those speaking in favour of re-establishing the land in the ALR counter to Century Group's proposal to develop with one third housing and the remainder as park and farmland was longtime Richmond farmer and Coun. Harold Steves.
Steves said Richmond Council recently voted unanimously to send land at Terra Nova, Garden City lands and adjacent Dept. of National Defence lands into Metro Vancouver's Green Zone where it will be protected as agricultural land.
"I urge Delta Council to have the same vision here with the Southlands," Steves said. "The Richmond lands are now protected by agricultural zoning, by the ALR and the Green Zone. And you can do the same by putting the Southlands back in the ALR."
Steves also quoted from documents from the Environment and Land Use Committee of Canada which was used to remove the Southlands—then known as the Spetifore lands—out of the ALR.
Steves claims the document was filled with misinformation about the poor quality of the soil at the Southlands.
"But here's what it said about the wonderful farm they were describing here," he said, adding it showed that its mixed crop farming was being done.
"It was properly rotated like farms used to be," he said.
Steves added the land was well drained when it was taken out of the ALR and "if there is anything wrong with the drainage today it's because the present owner has kept the drainage in good condition."
Local farmer Trevor Elliott said he supported saving farmland where it made sense.
"I do not think it makes sense to put the Southlands property back into the ALR," he said, "mainly because of where it is located."
Elliott said the farmland is completely isolated and surrounded by a community, making it extremely difficult for anyone to even attempt to farm it.
"I don't know of any farmer in Delta who would attempt it," he said.
Elliott added Delta is presented with a rare opportunity to create a new, livable, properly planned community.
"You also have the owner, a local, whose family has largely made Tsawwassen what it is today, and whose contributions to the community probably exceeds all of us in the room put together," he said.
Elliott recommended Delta either come up with money to remediate the land so it can be farmed, or use those funds to support local farmers who are experiencing tough economic times.
Brent Mooney, a Tsawwassen resident since 1985 who runs a organic farm in Langley said the Southlands is primed for a small scale, labour-intensive, organic farm.
"It's expensive to do, to set up and needs a lot of subsidies to get going. As I see it, you have just that being offered by the Century Group," he said, adding Delta should "grind them for every dollar. Get every concession you can from Century. Get the best deal for the taxpayers."
Mooney said council should do what it is paid to do and "solve this community stressor once and for all. I remind you, the ALR is avoidance, it's not the solution."
Other speakers championed the ideal of turning the land into a wildlife reserve of sorts where indigenous animals would be able to thrive.
And there were those who decried a lack of detail in Delta's proposal to return the land to the ALR in terms of what the costs would be local taxpayers to bring the land up to farming standards.
David Ryall, who runs Gipaanda Greenhouses in Delta said he has been surprised about the recent enthusiastic support for local agriculture when the community has lost up to 10 per cent of its agricultural land in the past five years to projects such as the South Fraser Perimeter Road, port expansion, and Tsawwassen First Nation land treaty.
"I'm not saying none of this should have happened, but provincial and federal governments should have put more dollars into our agriculture infrastructure," he said. "They are spending billions on these projects. Delta should have had more dollars out of the deal."
Some of that could have been used to improve the farming conditions on the Southlands, he said.
Night four of the Tsawwassen Area Plan Public Hearing is set for March 7 at 7 p.m. in Delta Municipal Hall.