An Abbotsford councillor is hoping to dispel concerns a recent environmental study of Sumas Mountain will hinder residential development in the area.
Coun. Patricia Ross said the Sumas Mountain Environmental Management Study (SMEMS) is not a land use plan but an inventory of the ecological and recreational resources on the mountain and a means to identify eco-sensitive areas.
“We not going to tell people that you can no longer continue doing what you’re doing on your property,” said Ross.
“The intent of the undertaking wasn’t to block development, but just to get a better understanding of what’s there so we plan better than we have in the past.”
Two property owners were scheduled to appear before council Monday night to outline their beliefs about how the SMEMS will impact the sale or development of their properties in the area.
Tensions around the study arose at a number of Sumas Mountain town hall meetings in late July and October.
Many residents were critical of the study because they fear it would be used by the city to impose land use decisions on them.
At the last meeting, some city staff suggested the Sumas Mountain area might be exempt from tree protection bylaws and that the SMEMS might be shelved.
Ross said those proposals were precipitous.
“Neither of those two things have been debated by council,” said Ross.
“That may be the way council goes, but I think that was premature to be said.”
The SMEMS takes stock of watercourses, wildlife habitat, parks and species at risk in the area, something all property owners would be required to do before developing a property anyway, noted Ross.
“The intent is actually to provide more certainty for developers and they might have less costs around their studies,” she said.
“The thought was it would be a benefit to development because . . . the city has done some of the work already, and they know in advance what a particular property is capable of in terms of development.”
The study will also ensure Abbotsford doesn’t end up taking a piecemeal development approach on the mountain, Ross said, adding other communities are undertaking similar bio-diversity inventories.
“In fact, many other communities are ahead of us in that regard,” she said.
The study is just one piece of information along with citizen input that will inform the future development of an official community plan for the Sumas Mountain, she said.
Regardless, development in the area is a long way off in the area, she stressed.
“There are no plans to develop on Sumas Mountain because we don’t have the money to put water and sewer up there, and it’s just not feasible for the city to do that,” said Ross.
“The study was just identifying what’s already there.”
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