Residents look over display boards outlining the proposed new Official Community Plan for Abbotsford prior to Monday night's public hearing.

Fate of farmland a concern at Abbotsford community plan hearing

Official Community Plan bylaw is scheduled to come back to council for third and final reading next week

Most of the speakers at the Monday night public hearing on the new “Abbotsforward” Official Community Plan (OCP) liked the proposed guide for the future growth of the city, but a substantial minority had trouble with the part that would create “special study areas” to consider converting farmland for other purposes.

More than 140 people attended the three-hour hearing at city hall and more than 30 spoke.

Two-thirds supported the OCP approach of “gentle” densification as the city population grows from 140,000 to 200,000.

The plan would create multiple hubs: a city centre on South Fraser Way, along with urban centres in Clearbrook, the historic downtown, Marshall and McCallum roads, and the planned UDistrict around the University of the Fraser Valley.

It proposes mixed-use residential and commercial buildings, with more underground parking and pedestrian- and transit-friendly spaces.

Three-quarters of new residents would live in existing neighbourhoods as lots get subdivided and multi-family buildings and townhomes replace single-family houses.

Allan Asaph“You’ve created a good plan, now stick with it,” said Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce executive director Allan Asaph (pictured).

“We can no longer call ourselves a small town, we are a growing city,” added Ann Penner, treasurer of the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame.

“It makes so much sense on so many levels,” said resident Bryan Sanders.

Field House Brewing Co. owner Josh Vanderheide filed a list of 40 “young entrepreneurs” who endorse the concept.

One-third of speakers liked most of the plan, but had reservations about the section of the OCP that would create Special Study Areas where the removal of farmland protected from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) could be considered for industrial purposes, or to create an “active park” featuring a range of sportsfields.

Most of the concern centered on the Special Study Area proposed for Bradner, next to the Gloucester industrial park in Langley. Earlier this year, the Agricultural Land Commission turned down a developer’s proposal to create a large industrial park in the area, but left the door open for a plan that would be crafted by the city.

Matt GrovesResident Matt Groves (pictured) said the Bradner site should stay in the ALR.

“We need every bit of farmland we have,” Groves said. “Don’t mess with it.”

“If it’s (farmland) gone, we can’t get it back,” added Sue McKenzie.

Chris MacCauley, president of the Vancouver chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, warned that the Lower Mainland is facing a serious shortage of industrial land that could cost the region business as companies searching for space move to Alberta.

MacCauley noted new stats show the regional industrial vacancy rate is currently less than two per cent, whereas a healthy market would have a vacancy of between five and six per cent.

Mayor Henry Braun said a decision on any of the Special Study Areas would require a public hearing first.

Among the other issues raised was housing the needy, with Jesse Wegenast, a pastor at The 5 and 2 Ministries who is in charge of the homeless prevention program at Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), calling for action to increase the supply of multi-family rentals and to protect existing stocks of low-income family rentals.

Simone Maasen, manager of youth services at Abbotsford Community Services, called for municipal funding of “safe, affordable housing” for young people.

City staff estimate there were approximately 8,000 “interactions” with residents during the two-year public consultation process leading up to last night’s public hearing, which was the final opportunity for public input.

The draft OCP is scheduled to come back to council next week for third and final reading and approval.