The City of Abbotsford will likely have to ask to pull farmland out of the Agriculture Land Reserve if it hopes to have enough industrial land to be a regional job hub over the next 20 years.
At the current rate of absorption, Abbotsford will run out of available industrial land in as little as eight years, according a study commissioned by the city following the adoption of its Official Community Plan last year.
It could take longer for the industrial land to disappear, but that would be the result of the increasingly unattractive remaining sites failing to appeal to companies needing land, the report’s authors told council Monday.
The research, done by consultant group Urban Systems, is the first step in a four-stage plan that aims to ensure Abbotsford will have enough industrial land as it grows into a city of 200,000 people.
The next step will look at areas of potential industrial growth, including two “special study areas” – one located north of Abbotsford International Airport, the other along the city’s border with Langley just north of Highway 1 – that are currently designated as farmland in the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR). The third stage would see council decide whether to apply to the Agriculture Land Commission (ALC) to remove land for industrial uses.
The report presented Monday suggested that a strong provincial economy has resulted in industrial land being gobbled up across the Lower Mainland over the last two and a half years.
“The story is very simple. It’s a story, essentially, of increased activity,” Urban Systems’ David Bell told council.
Abbotsford has boasted the fastest annual growth in recent years. It’s currently the seventh-largest market for industrial floor space in the Lower Mainland.
Much of the city’s current industrial land had been removed from the ALR a little more than 10 years ago through the City in the Country Plan. While around 117 hectares remain vacant, less than a fifth of that total is considered available for development. The rest is negatively affected by nearby watercourses and slopes.
The city’s remaining land can accommodate uses by smaller, local businesses. But for larger companies looking to build in he city – including those in industries like the food processing sector that would naturally be attracted to Abbotsford –there is a dearth of available land.
“If Abbotsford wants to continue to play a significant regional role … it will be very, very important to look at possibilities to increase your supply,” Bell said
Applying to remove farmland from the ALR is the most likely route, but could result in public opposition, particularly in the Bradner area. Last year, residents there celebrated an ALC decision to not allow a private developer to create an industrial park. That decision, however, suggested the ALC would prefer to see an application from the city itself.
Coun. Patricia Ross urged the city and planners to consult with Bradner residents as the process moves forward. She also said any plan to increase the industrial land base should be done “in a holistic way,” that takes into account the jobs created by the agricultural land itself and the importance of farming to Abbotsford. “I want to make sure we’re not just looking at this through a tunnel.”