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Farmland near Deltaport eyed for industrial development
A Vancouver developer has extended nine option-to-purchase agreements for Agricultural Land Reserve properties near the Roberts Bank superport which he hopes to turn into industrial real estate.
Ron Emerson of the industrial consortium Emerson Real Estate Group extended all but two options set to expire Nov. 30 on 240 hectares of farmland.
Located adjacent to rail lines servicing Deltaport the consortium–composed of railway companies CN and CP, Western Stevedoring, and international port consultant Carrix–would build an intermodal yard four kilometres in length to load and unload trains which are roughly the same length.
There would be a further 1.5-million square metres of warehousing facilities for distributors looking to import and export goods from Asia.
But in order to do that, Emerson would need to convince both municipal council and the Agricultural Land Commission of the need to destroy farmland.
“The option-to-purchase extensions come as no surprise,” said Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington. “The developer has drawn out the agreements for another year in the hopes that either the port or the province will hand him keys to steamroll over the Agricultural Land Reserve.”
Huntington called for action in Victoria last year urging the province to oppose the industrial speculation of farmland.
Previous remarks made by Delta Council regarding the proposal indicate Emerson would find no support there either, but Coun. Ian Paton said that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
“That’s the scary thing about the whole deal is that no matter how adamantly opposed our municipal government is against it, or even the land commission, sometimes you get overruled by the federal port authority to go ahead with the expansion of Deltaport.”
Paton said another concern with the core review underway in the provincial government is that an overhaul of the Agricultural Land Commission could water down protection for farmland.
As well, Paton said local governments across Canada are worried about changes to federal legislation that would make it easier for First Nations to take lands from the municipal tax base.
But Emerson said there’s “not a chance” of working with the Tsawwassen First Nation on the project.
“I don’t want to say anything negative about the Tsawwassen but their ability to execute and do business is–I mean, they’re trying hard and I hope they’re successful–but it’s all new to them.”
Emerson said he couldn’t speak to specifics because of a confidentiality agreement but did say the project was necessary for the industrial needs of the Lower Mainland.
“We understand people’s concerns about the ALR but it’s a matter of education and doing the right thing in the right location,” he said.
Emerson said he remembers when Charles Grosvenor owned all of Annacis Island from 1955 until 1986 when a bridge ushered in an industrial park that is now one of the most valuable industrial real estate parks in Western Canada.
As a real estate broker back then Emerson said he sold 60 hectares in 13 months. At the time, the Greater Vancouver Regional District estimated that would supply the industrial needs of the region for 15 to 20 years.
The industrial shortage today has been in part due to Burnaby and Richmond converting their lands into residential and commercial districts, said Emerson. Richmond, in particular, had a successful industrial sector but much like its farmland most has been paved over with houses and big box stores.
Another problem has been the BC Assessment Authority valuing land based on nearby properties, making it impossible for industrial tenants to afford lease rates.
The growing shortage of industrial lands and pressures to redevelop existing industrially-zoned properties has led Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester to suggest the creation of an industrial land reserve.
The time is also ripe for industrial growth, given the imminent opening of the province’s Gateway project, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, designed to better service the port, which has filed an application for a federal environmental assessment for Terminal 2.
“I think Delta has an incredible opportunity to look at the overall land inventory, make some good decisions, utilize the South Fraser Perimeter Road, and they’re going to have jobs, they’re going to have the tax base, and if they embrace the opportunity they’re going to be in incredible shape,” said Emerson.