Southlands public hearing adjourned
Mark April 14 on your calendar.
That's when the public will get its next shot at addressing the Corporation of Delta's proposed application to return the Southlands to the Agricultural Land Reserve. Mayor Lois Jackson set the date Monday night (March 7) as she unexpectedly adjourned the fourth night of public hearings on the controversial matter and announced the creation of a mayor's summit to discuss whether or not to develop of a portion of the 500-plus acre property which has sharply divided the community.
"Since the public hearing was adjourned on Thursday evening (March 3) I have had time to consider what was heard, as I'm sure many council members have done," Jackson told the standing room capacity audience crowded into the Delta Council Chamber. "Having listened to the public it is very clear that there is no community consensus."
Jackson added that what she heard most from the 90 or so speakers over the first three nights of the public hearings was a need for more discussion and exploration that could lead to a compromise on returning Southlands to a working farm.
"How do we get there," Jackson asked. "It was suggested we could get there together. I heard there is a willingness of the parties to talk to each other."
But the public hearing forum was not permitting that type of dialogue to take place. To assist with that Jackson said that during the adjournment period she will hold a mayor's summit on the future of the Southlands.
Property owner Century Group has proposed developing a third of the land for housing and has offered up the remainder for agricultural and recreational uses.
The summit will be a forum for discussion and debate, Jackson said.
"The objective will be to bring back a report that focuses on agriculture, but also considers the range of any other perspectives heard as part of the public hearing to date."
Included in the summit will be Jackson and one other member of Delta Council, Delta CAO George Harvie, a representative of Century Group, plus two representatives of their choice.
The group representing petitioners wanting to return the Southlands to the ALR will get two spots, and one representative each from the farming and environmental communities will round out the participants.
Two other property owners included in the Southlands issue will be permitted to address the summit.
Jackson added the adjournment will not terminate the public hearing process.
"The speaker's list will be retained intact and the proposal to include lands in the ALR will continue to be the matter before council," she said.
The report from the summit will be presented at the public hearing once it is reconvened.
Stating the summit was an unusual step, Jackson added it was her duty as mayor to ensure council had all the information to make a thoughtful decision.
"For the past 30 years the conflict on these lands has threatened to divide the community," she said. "It is my hope and my challenge that we no longer allow this to happen."
Dana Maslovat of Southlands the facts said he was surprised by the move.
"In some ways I'm disappointed because the numbers have shown in the past the majority voice does want this agricultural land and have it protected," he said. "The fact that a public hearing with 100 speakers has shown something different still doesn't go against what a majority of the people want."
He added that if the pending summit can come up with what the community wants he feels it would be a positive step forward.
"I'm just cautious whether this will happen given the discussion we've had to date and the difference of opinions out there," he said.
While he was also surprised at the move, Southlands property owner and Century Group president Sean Hodgins said he had the feeling Delta Council could not proceed with the way the public hearing was unfolding.
"People would have just kept signing up (to speak) and it was going to be another unproductive week like last week," he said.
Hodgins acknowledged that during the past three public hearing sessions his side was gaining support.
"I was grateful for the people who came out and supported compromise," he said. "I think that's what people were saying."
Some of those who spoke at the public hearing on the Southlands issue were unsure about the role of and reasoning behind the mayor's summit.
Longtime Tsawwassen resident Michael Anderson, who earlier in the public hearings had spoken against ALR inclusion, said the summit changes the rules of the public hearing process when it appeared those advocating against a return to the ALR were gathering momentum.
"The public hearing process clearly showed two and a half to one against inclusion," Anderson said. "And I guess that's not the score they wanted to hear. So, they set up a committee so it's equal on both sides. I'm sorry, if you're the queen of Delta then you can do that. But as the mayor of Delta you have to live have by the rules of the public hearing process."
Anderson added he is optimistic the forthcoming mayor's summit has a chance to make headway on the Southlands issue if it is not merely a political move.
"If it is what they say it is, fine, but not if they are just trying to buy time."
Local environmentalist Carol Vignale said the summit could make a difference, but favoured more public involvement in the process.
"To have a private summit and a private dialogue it's not what we really need," she said. "And then to return to the pubic hearing right after is not adequate."
Vignale added she wants to hear first-hand from the developer and others around the summit table.
According to a press release from the mayor's office Tuesday, details on the participants and date of the Mayor's Summit will be coordinated through the Mayor's Office and posted on Delta's website as soon as it is available.
The public hearing on the Southlands reconvenes April 14 at the South Delta Recreation Centre (1720 56 St.) at 7 p.m.