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Farmland fight renewed

The property the developer is asking to exclude from the ALR is 14 hectares fronting Highway 10 between 168 Street and the Serpentine River. - Jennifer Lang photo
The property the developer is asking to exclude from the ALR is 14 hectares fronting Highway 10 between 168 Street and the Serpentine River.
— image credit: Jennifer Lang photo

Residents of a west Cloverdale neighbourhood are marshalling opposition to a request to remove more than 14 hectares of farmland (about 35 acres) from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The application by a consortium of property owners centres around seven parcels of farmland fronting Highway 10 between 168 Street and the Serpentine River.

Surrey City Council has referred the application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), acting on an April 2013 planning report that said problems with the ALR site include poor drainage and soil quality, along with the fact that the land is physically separated from other local farming operations by Highway 10, a four-lane highway.

The city’s report says the applicant’s bid is supported by two agrologists’ reports saying the site isn’t suitable for agricultural. (The reports were prepared by the applicant’s consulting agrologist with EvEco Consultants Ltd. and a second agrologist with From the Ground Up.)

The report also notes the proposal is not in compliance with OCP policies to maintain integrity of the ALR and its existing properties. It also isn’t in compliance with several aspects of a city policy for considering applications for exclusion of land from the ALR.

A group called Keep West Cloverdale ALR (keepwestcloverdalealr.webs.com) has prepared a draft letter to the ALC opposing the current request, and is sharing it with their neighbours in hopes of preserving the property as farmland.

Group spokesperson Peter Friend said they have collected about 100 signed letters so far, and hope to gather more at an information meeting they are hosting Thursday evening (Aug. 1), 7 p.m. at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church (16613 Bell Rd.).

Friend said the group learned of the current application when a neighbour saw a sign posted on the land on July 15, which says anyone who wishes to express interest has until Aug. 6 to make a written submission to the ALC.

“The biggest thing is people have no idea that this is happening. They picked a time when everyone is on holiday, and we have less than three weeks to respond [between mid-July and Aug. 6],” he said. “It’s just horrendous.”

The group has heard the deadline might be extended, but has not received written confirmation.

"We can't afford to take a chance on false information, even if it may be true," said Friend.

Friend also called the report by EvEco’s agrologist “a bunch of hogwash” because the study was conducted in November following a heavy rainfall, pointing to minutes by the city’s Agriculture and Food Security Advisory Committee stating the agrologist had not seen the land during regular growing season.

This ALR application is the latest hurdle in the residents’ battle to keep the land their homes overlook as farmland.

Keep West Cloverdale ALR’s campaign began in 2010 against an earlier proposal by the same consortium of land owners to rezone the properties to pave way for an industrial business park.

At the time, they said negative impacts of the proposed business park would harm the environment, damage fish habitat, reduce property values and boost noise, while further reducing farmland in Surrey.

The owners’ previous rezoning application with the City of Surrey has been closed. The owners have not indicated what their plans are for the property should the ALR exclusion be approved, telling city staff it’s premature to discuss future land use at this point in the process.

In 2010, Oleg Verbenkov of Pacific Land Group, who spoke for the land owners, told The Reporter the intent was to rezone the land for industrial uses such as warehouses, offices and showrooms, along with smaller scale industry such as product assembly.

Preliminary drawings in 2010 showed a gas station on the southeast corner at Highway 10 and 168 Street, along with a dozen or so industrial use buildings, two-storey office buildings, and a frontage road with access onto Highway 10 and 168 Street.

The site is designated as agricultural in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy. Any amendments to that designation require a two-thirds majority vote in favour by the Metro Vancouver board – as well as a regional public hearing, steps that would occur if the ALC grants permission to exclude the site from the ALR.

The City of Surrey’s planning report notes that should the land be removed from the ALR, any future zoning changes would occur only after comprehensive public consultation with owners and residents.

— with files from Kristine Salzmann

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