Residents from both sides of the rural-urban divide packed an Abbotsford city council meeting Monday to speak out about a proposal to extract 225 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve to create an industrial park in Bradner.
The development application aims to remove 22 properties from the ALR in west Abbotsford and create industrial lands bordering the Gloucester Industrial Estates in Langley.
Those opposed to the plan raised concerns about trading crops for concrete, truck and train traffic, food security and noise, while proponents of the plan pointed to economic benefits such as jobs, increased tax revenue and net benefits to the farming sector.
Developer Ron Emerson, of Emerson Real Estate Group, said the project, when completely built after four years, could result in 5,000 full-time jobs with average salaries of $60,000 and taxes of $11 million a year, $7.5 million of which would go to the city.
Emerson also stated that if the total 300 acres the project eventually hopes to obtain were developed, $6 million in funds would go to the city's Agricultural Enhancement Endowment Fund.
The developers said there was a shortage of industrial lands in the Lower Mainland and that the soil of the subject properties was not "ideal" for farming.
Those opposed to the project said that keeping the lands in the ALR was critical for food security in a region with a rapidly growing population.
Resident Lynn Perrin said she formerly owned a five-acre farm in the area that was suitable for raising cattle and poultry and able to feed more than 20 families.
Others noted that agriculture such as poultry barns and hog or mushroom farms were not dependent on high quality soil.
Kerry Proudfoot said the development was simply land speculation and would adversely impact the tight-knit community of Bradner.
She disputed the argument there's a regional shortage of industrial land, noting that years after being developed, the Gloucester Estates is still only at 50 per cent capacity.
Other residents expressed the concern that the noise from trucks and trains serving Gloucester park would only get worse if the Abbotsford development went through.
Critics were also skeptical about the job and salary projections, questioning whether any jobs produced would actually go to Abbotsford residents.
However, property owners supporting the plan said they knew best the limitations of their land for agricultural production.
One man suggested the land was no good for anything other than marijuana grow-ops while another woman said poor drainage rotted her goats' hooves off.
Other supporters, many students at the University of the Fraser Valley, stressed the economic benefits of the plan, particularly the jobs it would provide.
Rose Johnson said she wanted better economic opportunities for her children.
"A lot of people see [the development] as a positive thing. They aren't making it farming or with low paying jobs."
Council did not make any decision about the application at the public information session.
Staff will review the proposal and public input and will present a technical report to council at a future date.