The community of Bradner came out in full force last Tuesday to tell Abbotsford city officials they didn't want "warehouses all over Bradner."
More than 250 local residents attended Mayor Bruce Banman's July 10 town hall meeting to discuss an unpopular ditch cleaning fee, and the proposed development of 275 acres of farmland into an industrial complex, similar to the adjacent 700-acre Gloucester Industrial Estates in Langley.
"I'd say 99 per cent of the people here don't want to see industry in here," resident Kerry Proudfoot said to loud applause at the three and a half hour meeting.
To date, owners of 22 farm properties said they will apply for an exemption from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Development firm Emerson Real Estate Group intends to develop a 125acre logistics park served by the nearby Southern Rail of B.C. plus other industrial enterprises on the rest of the site and to add a new freeway access.
The project could generate $4.7 billion in economic activity, and 4,700 jobs, the developer claims.
The site perimeters are marked by the Langley-Abbotsford boundary on the west, Lefeuvre Road on the east, 56th Avenue on the north and the Trans-Canada Highway on the south. About a dozen parcels within the area have not applied for exclusion.
A proposal to remove several farms from the ALR in the same area withered in 2004 after strong local opposition.
"The $4.5 billion is pie in the sky at this point. Is that how we dismantle a community that has been here 100 years? Once you get rid of farmland, it never comes back," said Proudfoot.
Longtime resident Pat Brady, whose 56th Avenue property is across the road from proposed project, wondered why expansion into Abbotsford's rural community was necessary.
"Half of the land at Gloucester is still unused, and it's been there for 27 years," he said.
David Avery of Lotusland Vineyards predicted farms and farmers will become more important in the future.
"Twenty per cent of us will be producing food to feed the rest of us, not just the one per cent [of us farming] we have now. If you're not producing food, you'll be starving," he warned.
Kathy Nipkow, a 21-year local resident with four children, said Bradner is more than a collection of farms.
"This is a lifestyle we have chosen. There are few communities left that are like Bradner and Mount Lehman. Where else can you go and find a May Pole dance? Bradner is Bradner. You have to live here to know it. I love Bradner," she said to applause.
Although not a rural resident, Regina Dalton pointed out the City of Abbotsford had 450 acres exempted from the ALR almost eight years ago for industrial purposes, yet little development has occurred and few jobs were created.
Mike Innis disputed claims by owners seeking ALR exemption that the soils are too poor to farm, noting that ALC classification finds class three and class four lands are capable of producing a wide range of crops under good management practices.
He noted there were at least six absentee owners among the applicants, and added some acquired more farms in recent years "even though they say the soil is bad."
"I ask you to consider the implications of that," Innis said to the city officials at the meeting.
However, one of the 22 owners asking for ALR exemption, Patrick Selinger, rose to say that despite his "valiant efforts" to grow grapes on his Townshipline Road farm, the soil is alternatively too soggy or too thin for crops.
"It has limited agricultural potential," said Selinger, adding the sale of his land for development would not be "a windfall for me."
He said the group of applicants were sensitive to the criticisms of Gloucester Industrial Park and its promises that didn't materialize, and chose to not to "do a Gloucester."
The project will follow a natural boundary, he said.
"It won't come into Bradner. It won't change your lifestyle. I hope this development, if it goes ahead, would improve Bradner and protect what really is Bradner," Selinger said to the audience.
Abbotsford's economic development manager Jay Teichroeb told the audience the proposal could bring $11 million in tax revenues to the city. That compares to about $17,000 in annual municipal taxes the city now receives from those same farming properties, he said.
Only 18 per cent of property taxes come from non-residential sources, and the city needs to change that balance to be economically sustainable, he added.
Industry there could also bring job opportunities to Abbotsford, which currently sees 3,300 people go out of the community every day to work, Teichroeb said.
The formal proposal filed with the city in early July will be reviewed by the council and will go to an open house in September before the city councillors decide whether or not to back the application.
Banman said he will keep an open mind.
"For those who want to preserve farmland, the best way to preserve it is to start farming it," Banman said, adding "there is no appetite among city councillors to remove viable farmland from the ALR."