Plans to develop a historic parcel of Tsawwassen farmland into a mix of high-density housing, agriculture and recreational space are being met with resistance from local residents.
More than 400 people packed a public forum Oct 24 at the South Delta Recreation Centre to hear about a proposal from locally owned Century Group. It wants to build 1,900 homes on the property known as the Southlands, which is located between 56 Street and Boundary Bay Road and currently zoned agricultural.
“I don’t think these quality soils should be growing houses,” said Wendy Holm, an expert consultant on agriculture, who was a guest speaker at the forum.
“We’re losing land in the good part of the province,” she said, citing reports by agriculture scientists that confirm the area is capable of growing a large variety of crops such as potatoes, grains and beans.
Two decades of controversy
Residents and community groups have contested development of the Southlands for the past 20 years. It was removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1989 and has been vulnerable to rezoning and subdivision since.
The Southlands is now the Lower Mainland’s largest block of non-reserve farmland.
Century Group president and Tsawwassen resident Sean Hodgins owns the land. He is proposing to divide the 530-acre property into three parts – residential, agricultural and recreational. Tsawwassen stands to lose over 300 acres of farmable land if his proposal is accepted.
The meeting was held as part of the public process involved in the first review of Tsawwassen’s current area plan since it was adopted in 1992.
Hodgins acknowledged residents’ resistance at the forum, saying “many of you are here because you fought very hard against any development 20 years ago.” He added that his proposal for the Southlands is the best solution because it is based on the concept of new urbanism, a movement that replaces urban sprawl with denser, mixed-use communities.
Hodgins said that homes built close to streets, live-work spaces and urban agriculture are components of his development plan. He used communities in Metro Portland, Ore. as examples of recent urban and suburban development during his planning process.
“All I’ve worked on is to try and come up with something that will work for the community,” said Hodgins.
Delta resident Donna Higenbottam doesn’t see his plan this way. She views the development as a loss for the community. “[There is] no benefit to the group,” she said.
Higenbottam’s husband, John, agrees. He said Tsawwassen residents’ “quality of life would be seriously degraded.”
Ron Plowright, a community developer with the Fraser Health Authority, said that food security in Delta and Tsawwassen for the next 100 years would be threatened by developments in the Southlands.
Guest speaker Kristi Tatebe, a research scientist from the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning at the University of British Columbia, spoke of small-scale initiatives as a way of supporting a resilient urban agriculture. Examples include permanent farmers’ market spaces and backyard gardens
“We’re blessed with agricultural land in the community but we can’t take it for granted that it’ll always be there,” said Tatebe.
The meeting was intended to bring together voices from all sides of the issue.
However representatives from the anti-development group Save the Southlands declined an invitation, said Delta Councillor Bruce McDonald. In an email, the group wrote, “since our members had decided early on that we would not be drawn into a divisive and polarized us/them debate on the Southlands issue, we declined this opportunity.”
This was the final of five forums. Feedback from all will be used to create an ideas document to be presented early next year.
Tsawwassen’s updated area plan is scheduled for May 2010 although Council has directed that Century Group’s proposal be considered after that time.
The Tsawwassen Area Plan Committee meets again on Nov 5 now that the public consultation process has concluded.
(Photo of Tsawwassen farmland courtesy of Flickr user pkdon50.)