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Council reveals mass public opposition to Southlands development
More than three-quarters of people who participated in public consultations are opposed to the Southlands development, according to a municipal report presented to council Monday (Dec. 17) evening.
The development application before council involves 950 residential units on roughly 20 per cent of the 217 ha (536 acre) parcel of land in southeast Tsawwassen.
According to the report, Delta has received 1,398 total pieces of correspondence from the public, enough to fill eight binders as of Nov. 16.
Of the letters, emails, petitions, form letters, and comment sheets collected from developer Century Group's open house, less than 20 per cent expressed support for the project, while 77 per cent expressed opposition.
Meanwhile, an online petition with close to 950 names, as well as a 464-name signed petition, is calling for the application to be rejected. A 2011 petition with 1,363 names called for the the site to be put back into the Agricultural Land Reserve.
"There is nothing that staff have that hasn't been made available to the public," said chief administrative officer George Harvie in his report.
Those who indicated support for the Southlands project cited favourable concepts such as community-based farming, an increased variety of housing for first-time buyers and seniors, and bolstering the school-age population.
Those who oppose the application want to retain the farmland for future generations, are concerned about the ecological impact, and the negative effects of increased population density.
Council chambers were packed to capacity Monday as more than 100 people were in the audience to voice their opposition to the project.
Coun. Sylvia Bishop said that although Century Group has the right to make an application, the public has already expressed overwhelming opposition to the development.
"Ultimately this thing has to come to an end one way or another. I can only live so long," said Coun. Bruce McDonald to laughter and applause.
Opposition to the project has been expressed by numerous groups, some accusing the municipality of dragging their feet.
Dana Maslovat and his group, Southlands: The Facts, has launched an ombudsperson complaint against Delta in response to a letter he says accuses his organization of misrepresentation.
"The letter of reprimand from Nov. 8, admonished Southlands: The Facts for publishing information to concerned citizens regarding the municipality’s legal right to pass bylaws that would prevent the operation of greenhouses or other forms of industrial farming in the middle of Tsawwassen," said Maslovat.
"It has since been confirmed by Delta CAO, George Harvie, in a presentation to council on Dec. 10, that the Municipality of Delta can indeed adopt bylaws to restrict certain types of farm uses, such as greenhouses, on the Southlands."
However, Harvie has repeatedly stated the opposite opinion, reminding council in that Dec. 10 meeting that although Delta could adopt such bylaws, it's unlikely they would hold up to a court challenge. A recent consultation with three legal experts not only confirmed this, but suggested Delta could be sued for damages and found guilty of abuse of power.
Mayor Lois Jackson said in an interview Monday that she has no interest in arguing with Maslovat.
"What I will say is it's my responsibility to ensure that the information coming forward for council's consideration is accurate and thorough, easily understood by everyone, and that council will have all information it needs in order to make a decision."
Jackson said there's a lot of emotion attached to the issue but that everybody has a right to investigate and ask questions.
"The key thing we have not been able to settle with the public is what we would do with that 80 per cent land," said Harvie.
Century Group is proposing one solution to that question, called the Delta Community Based Farm District, which would establish a governing body and infrastructure on 20.2 ha (50 acres) of land adjacent to the western edge of the proposed Southlands neighbourhood.
Century Group would install agricultural improvements such as irrigation lines, hedgerows, improve existing agricultural buildings and build new support buildings, and possibly even a Farmers' Market. At the end of a 10 year period the work and infrastructure would revert to Delta and the remaining 68.8 ha (170 acres) would be given to Delta to support more conventional agricultural operations.
Staff plan to hold the next public information meeting on Southlands in early 2013.