The contentious Southlands proposal passed third reading by a vote of 6-1 Friday morning.
This followed 25 hours of presentations during public hearings last week which heard 388 speakers over a period of five days.
Each council member said the decision was a difficult one, and gave a short explanation as to how they reached a decision. Here are some of the highlights of those responses in the order in which they spoke in council chambers:
Coun. Ian Paton
“We can’t sit on the fence, we have to go one way or another,” he said in his opening remarks.
Paton said that as a farmer his job is to ensure that at every opportunity he can, he will add farmland to Delta’s agricultural inventory.
Being friends with the Spetfore family who originally owned the Southlands, as well as other farmers who have worked the property for years, Paton said he understands the challenges faced by farmers in its current state.
“I know it’s easy for people to say we need to save farmland,” said Paton, before adding the Southlands property has become overgrown with invasive blackberries and other shrubs because of poor soil conditions. “The number one thing I hate looking at in agriculture is fallow land.”
Paton said there have been good examples of building houses on farmland, and used East Ladner as an example.
“I’ve lived in this community for a long time and I’ve seen the division. We have to make a decision.”
Coun. Sylvia Bishop
The lone opponent on council, she spoke against the development by stating that metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary mandates there is no need to build additional housing on agricultural land.
Bishop said there is flood risk to the homes that will be built there and liquefaction is a concern should an earthquake occur.
“The land is farmland whether it’s active or not,” she said, responding to calls the land is fallow and unused.
Bishop said she has seen a lot of farmland disappear since arriving in Tsawwassen in 1966. And although she welcomes new housing, there is already enough being built through infill developments, the Tsawwassen Springs, and the housing at Tsawwassen First Nation.
“A majority of residents in this community do not want to see anything built on that land,” she said.
Coun. Robert Campbell
Campbell said that council cares deeply about farmland and the environment, using the example of 56th Street and Highway 17 where the Corporation has added farmland to its inventory. He also pointed out that council saved, protected, and added parcels to the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy.
“It is not simply a numbers game when reaching a decision like this,” he said, adding that the opposition to the project are not the only issue. “This is a decision that impacts all of Delta.”
According to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, Campbell said Delta will need to absorb 20,000 additional residents over the next 15 years, which can’t happen though infill housing alone.
“We are a part of Metro Vancouver and we must accept that,” he said.
Campbell also said that Canada is a country with a history of accepting new people and that Tsawwassen should be no different.
“It is selfish and hypocritical for people to say I don’t want them here. Go somewhere else.”
Coun. Jeannie Kanakos
Kanakos said the project hits at the heart of important values held by the community, such as farmland, environment, and sustainable living.
“This is an amazing offer, amazing package, and not one that is likely to come our way again in our lifetime,” she said.
Kanakos said the Southlands project will connect Tsawwassen residents to the beach.
She also expressed confidence in the geotechnical engineers who have assured that the houses can be floodproofed and protected against liability concerns.
“It is in the interests of all concerned… to ensure that attention to these important safety issues will occur,” she said.
Kanakos also suggested that the 80 per cent of the land which will be donated back to the Corporation of Delta be added back into the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Southlands was removed from the ALR in 1982 by the Social Credit Government against the wishes of the Agricultural Land Commission at the time.
Kanakos said she was also convinced of the importance of the project through the testimony of farmers during the public hearings.
“We heard from the farmers that this land would be farmable with improvements to the soil,” she said.
Coun. Scott Hamilton
“We’re not paid to sit here on a fence, we’re here to make a decision,” he said.
Although he admitted being opposed to the 1989 and 2011 proposals, Hamilton said the latest one is the best compromise to heal the divisiveness of the community.
Hamilton also said that the land only sat fallow for so many years because no farmer would be able to spend the $9 million to remediate the soils. That can happen now.
Coun. Bruce McDonald
“I know that there’s a lot of people here who think there is no quarter here, there is no compromise,” he said, before adding that change must happen. “Can there be no change on that property? And the answer comes ringing down a resounding ‘no.'”
Ultimately, McDonald said council must look for the greatest community benefit with the least amount of pain.
He also took issue with the claims that Southlands is being built on a floodplain, pointing out most of Tsawwassen is also built on floodplains.
“If we accept the concept that nothing should ever be built on floodplain then we should tell Richmond to shut down tomorrow.”
Mayor Lois Jackson
Jackson said that throughout her years as mayor she’s tried to save every inch of good agricultural soil and that her decision on the Southlands was not an easy one.
“The only thing attached with saving agricultural land is saving the farmer as well,” she said.
Jackson expressed her surprise when she was first presented with the opportunity to take ownership over 80 per cent of the land with the best agricultural soils.
“If this goes ahead it will be our goal to make sure our children and grandchildren say we made the right decision,” she said.
The proposal will now have to go before the regional government of Metro Vancouver for approval within the regional growth strategy and amend Delta’s regional context statement.