By Mike Archer. This is not how you plan a city. Back in January Mayor Banman and councillors Patricia Ross and John Smith pushed hard for a rezoning that would answer the threat from an agricultural machinery business group to move to Chilliwack if they weren’t allowed to put an Agri-Mall in a residential area.
The problem was that City staff correctly advised against the proposal since the land is zoned residential and is part of the long term growth plan for the City. Staff said that “the city is years away from understanding the long-term residential needs of the area and building the Agri-Mall could alter future development capacities in the area.”
With the help of Smith, Ross and Banman the proposal has been kept alive. Now the proposal is being sent to a public hearing.
Council should deny the proposal, stick to the OCP and tell the proponent to move the companies it wants in its Agri-Mall into one of the industrial-zoned areas which are, thanks to exactly this kind of decision-making, sitting developed and ready, but empty.
If they can’t do that because the land they own is over in East Abbotsford, then they should have thought of that before buying land which wasn’t zoned for their purposes. Think about it … why would you buy cheap residential-zoned land in order to put a huge Agri-Mall business on it?
Is Abbotsford a City in which it is so easy to get a re-zoning that developers can buy land zoned one way with the full expectation that they just have to ask and the politicians will rezone it for them? It seems to happen on a regular enough basis and should cause residents to be concerned about the integrity of the process.
Even if this particular piece of property was not purchased with the expectation of easy re-zoning, the mere reliance on re-zoning to make a developed business plan work is either bad business or bad planning. Either way, it is not a sensible way to build a city.
As for the threat to move to Chilliwack, how on earth are they going to move those companies from Abbotsford over to Chilliwack if their land is in Abbotsford?
The economic development function at the City of Abbotsford (which Mayor Banman wants to take behind closed doors and out of the reach of public scrutiny) has been in disarray for more than a decade.
The fact that the proposed re-zoning is supported by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association and the University of the Fraser Valley should give residents cold comfort. The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce has supported every single multi-million dollar losing idea out of City Hall over the last three administrations. For a project to be supported by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce virtually assures us it is a bad idea.
In the absence of any long term or even medium term strategy or plan, the City has developed in fits and starts, largely dependent on which developers have been able to make exceptions to the Official Community Plan (OCP) in order to allow them to make money with no view towards the needs or desires of neighbours or the community at large as expressed in the OCP.
As a result, Abbotsford’s OCP was allowed to resemble Swiss cheese and with each passing year it has become more riddled with exceptions.
The project currently underway to review and revamp the OCP is an important step in the right direction. To go against the OCP and the strong recommendations from staff against such a proposal would be a dangerous and quite simply dumb thing to do.
Not only would it establish that it is business as usual at City Hall in Abbotsford despite attempts to fix the OCP, and tie the hands of future mayors and councillors, it would establish that there is a new method for land developers and businesses to get what they want in Abbotsford – threats.
If (Corpus Management Group (CMG) intends to take its toys and move to Chilliwack unless Abbotsford City council goes against its OCP and puts an Agri-Mall in a residential area then CMG should go to Chilliwack where they apparently build cities that way.
John Smith has retired. Bruce Banman is likely to lose the upcoming municipal election. And Patricia Ross will reconsider her support as soon as someone explains to her that this is a terrible environmental decision.
Poof – political support for the idea will have vanished in a matter of weeks.
We’ve said it before – there ought to be a cost – a real cost – to breaking the rules in Abbotsford. Especially when it is the City breaking its own rules.
Perhaps, when faced with yet another decision to effectively break the rules (which is what deviating from the OCP means) we have to learn to ask Cui Bono – who benefits? After all, the only people who seem to have benefited from council’s largess over the years are companies like the Calgary Flames, Global Spectrum, the owners of Highstreet Mall and any others to which City politicians have either given tax breaks, signed illegal contracts or used other means of providing access to taxpayer funds in order to help private business.
We almost gave away the farm to Banman’s other favourite charity – the YMCA – until taxpayers told Council enough was enough.
Let’s not give away control of the zoning process into the bargain.
It might be fitting for Banman’s term in office to end with yet another desperate surrender of taxpayers’ and residential landowners’ rights in the face of an empty threat, but let’s start now looking after the community’s interests instead those of the few and the rich.