By Mike Archer. In one last apparent attempt to see the old system work its magic, councilors John Smith, Les Barkman and Mayor Bruce Banman voted in favour an agri-mall proposal in a rural residential area Monday. This despite staff objections; vocal opposition of neighbours and First Nations; and the fact the zoning does not fit in with the Official Community Plan (OCP).

The proponent, Corpus Management Group (CMG), had threatened to pull Abbotsford’s agri-businesses out of the city to Chilliwack if it was not allowed to change the zoning on the residentially-zoned property.

While councilor Patricia Ross had originally been in favour of the plan because, she said, she was afraid Abbotsford couldn’t afford to lose its agricultural businesses, she told the Abbotsford News the site’s archeological significance “… is far more significant than we were led to believe.”

Abbotsford has been trying to lose a reputation for allowing developers to buy relatively cheap land and, through the rezoning process, increase its value in some instances regardless of, or even despite the zoning of the property or the City’s Official Community PLan (OCP). Buying a piece of residencial land, re-zoning it to commercial or industrial for instance, is one of the easiest ways of increasing its value.

Abbotsford’s new mayor, Henry Braun, has argued that the zoning process in Abbotsford has to be tightened so that the city doesn’t just have highrises wherever it suits the owners of the land but that zoning decisions should conform to the OCP.

In Abbotsford there are industrial areas which have had all of the services put in, at taxpayer expense, and which have not a single tenant or occupant. There are buildings in Abbotsford which have been purchased, renovated, advertised and leased before ever getting re-zoning approvals.

One of Mayor Banman’s staunchest supporters, former president of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) Paul MacLeod, has bragged openly about the fact the he is known around City Hall as ‘No-Permit-Paul.’

Henry Braun and the four AbbotsfordFIRST candidates who were elected to council on Saturday have committed themselves to fixing Abbotsford’s broken planning process so that decisions are no longer made in a vacuum, without neighbourhood approval, without conforming, at least in some vague sense, to the OCP and without the proposed re-zoning making sense within the confines of the city’s long term strategic goals.
If you look at the way the vote broke down on Monday, Henry Braun was joined by councillors Dave Loewen, Patricia Ross, and Moe Gill – three of the members of his new council, and Bill MacGregor, the only incumbent to lose in Saturday’s election.

Smith, Barkman and Banman were the councillors who, together with MacGregor, killed the proposed BC Housing/Abbotsford Community Services proposal for a fully-funded low barrier shelter for 20 alcohol-dependant men on the edge of downtown Abbotsford near property owned by MacLeod, because of the supposedly sacrosanct nature of the C7 zoning which covers most of the Abbotsford BIA.

The same two men fought hard to rezone a piece of property near the heart of downtown and the ‘Mom and Pop’ stores which they claimed to be protecting, to be used for the same purpose.

It’s too early to tell whether or not this was the significant moment when Henry Braun’s influence as the new mayor is being felt (even prior to his taking over the job), but it would be a welcome surprise.

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