Fraser Valley mayors eye more ALR land for industry

Warehouses, manufacturers shifting east for cheaper property, while cities want new employers to add local jobs

A portion of the huge Gloucester industrial park in northeastern Langley Township

Some mayors in the Fraser Valley are hoping to pull more farmland out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to serve as industrial sites that can provide more local jobs.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, speaking to a business forum hosted by the Urban Development Institute, said his city expects a decision soon on the removal from the ALR of about 300 acres in west Abbotsford for a new business park adjacent to Langley’s Gloucester Industrial Estates.

“That will mean an additional 4,500 employment jobs,” Braun told the audience of realtors and developers Thursday in Langley.

He said Abbotsford has seen a surge in demand for industrial development – the city is now weighing applications to build 550,000 square feet of new industrial floor space.

Incoming businesses tend to be in manufacturing or warehousing, Braun said, and are typically relocating from higher cost locations in Metro Vancouver.

Mission Mayor Randy Hawes told the forum his municipality also sees potential to remove land from the ALR for industrial use, including an 80-acre property Scott Paper used to grow cottonwood trees but no longer needs.

“We believe that could come out of the ALR and we’re quite confident that it can. That would provide a considerable number of jobs.”

Hawes said he also expects a buyer to emerge before long for the former Genstar lands in southwest Mission, which could house up to 10,000 homes. It’s considered the largest piece of developable urban-designated land in the Lower Mainland but has been in limbo since Genstar Development Co. abandoned plans to develop in B.C.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said an application to pull land in Albion out of the ALR is also being reconsidered by the farmland commission.

She said Maple Ridge strongly supports local agriculture and is committed to regional food security goals.

“But we need to be realistic about what’s happening on our agricultural land and start a new conversation about some of the other potential things we could be doing with it,” Read said.

She cited city concerns with numerous fragmented parcels of farmland where people build homes and do nothing related to agriculture, as well as a large medical marijuana plant on agricultural land.

“We would like to see more industrial land strategically positioned within Maple Ridge in areas where we just really don’t think there’s going to be a farm use.”

Surrey is also a major destination for industrial developers that can no longer find suitable land in Burnaby and Vancouver, the forum heard.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said one of the innovative new industries that’s popped up in his area is a firm that feeds organic food waste to black soldier flies, and uses the protein-rich fly maggots to produce animal feed for farms.

In an interview after the meeting, Froese said he would also welcome some restructuring of the ALR to allow more logical development and make farming more feasible, with no net loss for agriculture.

“In Langley, we’ve got some areas where it’s almost a patchwork quilt, we’ve got ALR intermingled with urban,” he said. “It would certainly be nice to do some tradeoffs – take some ALR land out and put some other land that’s not in the ALR back in.”

Transit improvements urged

Mayors from Maple Ridge to Chilliwack told the forum they want to see transit improved for their residents, and have service better integrated between the TransLink system in Metro Vancouver and cities further east in the Valley.

Mission’s Randy Hawes said he expects TransLink to soon increase the $750,000 his municipality pays each year for West Coast Express commuter train service, adding he would like to see other Fraser Valley cities contribute.

“West Coast Express is, in my belief, a regional transportation service, yet Mission pays 100 per cent of the cost outside the TransLink area.”

A provincial freeze on funding for B.C. Transit has also blocked any improvement in local bus service for Fraser Valley communities, Hawes said.

“The growth is moving east at a pretty rapid rate,” he said. “We need to build a transportation system that works.”

Langley Township’s Jack Froese said he was disappointed by the defeat of the Metro Vancouver referendum on a regional sales tax to expand transit.

Nicole Read said it was a “difficult decision” when she opposed the referendum but continues to press for a rapid bus service connecting Maple Ridge to the Evergreen Line, which by next year will extend SkyTrain as far northeast as Coquitlam.