The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce has reiterated its strong opposition to locating a proposed supportive housing project to house 20 homeless men within the downtown Abbotsford Business Improvement Area and is urging the business community to support its position at the Feb 3 public hearing City Hall.
In an advocacy letter circulated this week, Chamber President Mike Welte says that Abbotsford’s high unemployment rate and need for business investment trump the needs of desperate men and women living on Abbotsford’s streets or the millions of dollars infused into the local economy by BC Housing to create jobs – both for the construction of the building and the long-term employment possibilities generated by the facility.
Welte says that filling the empty lot across the street from the ACS with a supportive housing project would go against the Economic Development Action Plan the Chamber wrote for Mayor Banman.
A Letter from the President
At 7:00pm on February 3rd, a very important public hearing will be held at the Matsqui Auditorium regarding a rezoning application for a 21-unit supportive recovery facility proposed by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS). The proposed location is within the defined Downtown Abbotsford Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Chamber strongly opposes the rezoning application, as it is contrary to the intent and purpose for which the City created the BIA in the first place. I truly believe that the business community has not had the opportunity to fully understand the economic impact of this potential application or had the opportunity to voice their opinions.
Downtown Abbotsford has been in a state of revitalization for well over 10 years. Mayor and Council created the Business Improvement Area and the C7 zoning bylaw with the sole purpose of creating economic growth in an area plagued by undesirable and illegal activities, as well as other factors inhibiting healthy redevelopment. In an effort to clean up our downtown, the city created the C7 zone which explicitly prohibits supportive recovery facilities in this zone. Council made a promise to the owners, merchants and residents that they were committed to improvement, beautification and maintenance; conservation of heritage property; and encouraging businesses within the BIA.
The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association has worked tirelessly to uphold the spirit and intent of this bylaw, even as far as turning away businesses that didn’t fit within the bylaw. Revitalization of the historic downtown core has been a great success and I am proud to say the downtown core now has a vacancy rate of about 5%, which is down from a staggering 65% prior to this area plan and the C7 zone. The announcement of this project has already resulted in business uncertainty and further vacancy in an area that has reached its saturation of social service agencies in the very small 4 sq km Business Improvement Area.
As unemployment in Abbotsford hits 7.7% we need to be mindful that land in the BIA is the catalyst for entrepreneurship and job creation and results in an increased tax base for Abbotsford, lessening the financial burden on our businesses and residents. Furthermore, in December 2013 city council adopted the Economic Development Action Plan. According to this plan, land in the downtown core must be reserved to “facilitate business retention and expansion, attract new business and investment, promote smart growth, and advance a business-friendly investment climate” for future generations. It is important to note that, if approved, this proposed rezoning application would undermine four of the six objectives in the Action Plan.
It is time for the business community to articulate to Mayor and Council that the downtown core must remain an area reserved for commercial business interests and jobs for future generations to come. I want to challenge businesses in Abbotsford to attend this public hearing, call the City at (604 851-4168) or write Mayor and Council showing your support for small business and the merchants in Downtown Abbotsford. They have made considerable investment, financially, emotionally and in effort to the improvement of the downtown core and are concerned about what could happen to their livelihood if this rezoning application is approved. Please show your opposition to this project’s location on or before February 3rd.