Delta council is hearing speakers for and against a controversial plan to put nearly 1,000 homes on the site of a former vegetable farm in Tsawwassen.
The hearings, which began on Monday and continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, are the latest step in a land-use battle that dates back decades and has featured several development proposals, including one that would have included a golf course and 2,000 homes that was rejected in 1989.
Council moved the hearings from the municipal hall to a local recreation centre because of high levels of interest.
"We expect there will be an overwhelming number of speakers and the vast majority of them opposed to it," Dana Maslovat, a spokesman for Southlands: the Facts, a group that lobbies against the proposal, said on Monday.
The plan, put forward by Delta-based developer Century Group, would change the designation for part of the site from agricultural to general urban to allow development of homes and commercial space.
Under the proposal, 80 per cent of the site – which is in southeast Tsawwassen and bounded on the south by the Canada-U.S. border between B.C. and Point Roberts – would be transferred to the municipality of Delta to create the Southlands Community Farm District, and area of agricultural and green space.
Critics have said the proposal, which Century filed in 2011, will do little to support farming and flies in the face of regional initiatives relating to transportation and land use. They say adding amenities such as roads and other services would mean not much more of the site would be used for agriculture than the current 300 acres.
"If you look at [Metro Vancouver's] regional growth strategy, it talks about relatively common-sense planning principles that include 'we shouldn't put houses on farm land, we shouldn't put them on a flood plain and we shouldn't put them far from transportation hubs' – and you have a proposal here for a 1,000 homes for which the vast majority are at the lowest elevation and far from transportation hubs," Mr. Maslovat said.
The current proposal does not reflect the Tsawwassen Area Plan, which Delta council completed several years ago and favoured keeping the site agricultural, Mr. Maslovat said.
"Two years later, with the ink barely dry on that [area plan] and here we are with a proposal for 20 per cent development of the land and all the same problems that were present when we went through this with the Tsawwassen Area Plan."
Concerns include the amount of fill that would be required to stabilize the low-lying site, traffic from the increased number of homes in an area with very limited transit.
The site, formerly known as the Spetifore Lands, was removed from B.C.'s Agricultural Land Reserve in the 1990s. Some of it is being farmed by an operator who leases the land. The rest is fallow or being used as a community garden. The property has problems, including poor drainage, saline soil and lack of ready irrigation.
Under the proposal, Century would donate $9-million to Delta to improve drainage and irrigation. The company said the areas with the best-quality soils would be reserved for "intensive" farming, with the development on land with poorer-quality soil.
In interviews, open houses and council meetings over the past two years, Century president Sean Hodgins has said the proposal would integrate agriculture into neighbourhoods and encourage innovative community farming techniques.
To deal with being on a flood plain, the designs in Century's proposal are based on recent municipal initiatives that focus on the potential impact of climate change on water levels resulting from storm surges, a company spokesman said.
"We are meeting all the standards for the future, and we are reflecting slightly over a metre of sea-level rise into all our calculations," Century spokesman Brad Semke said on Monday. "We are being held to a standard that doesn't exist that and we have voluntarily done that."