The longest development saga in Canadian history returned to a public hearing Monday evening (Oct. 28), as hundreds of Delta residents turned up at the South Delta Rec Centre in Tsawwassen to offer their views on the future of the Southlands property.
Over the course of the next three days and 18 hours later, 252 speakers had offered mixed views on redeveloping 45 hectares of land to build 950 homes in Boundary Bay. A further 172 hectares (about 80 per cent of the land) would be designated for farmland and public space.
After strong initial opposition Monday and Tuesday, the “yes” side made gains Wednesday with 39 speaking in favour of the development and 30 opposed. Among those speakers taking a clear stand, the total opponents so far number 117, while the number of favour are 94.
Not included in these numbers are the hundreds of letters of correspondence received by council after July 29, which will also be considered part of the public record.
On Monday, speakers and spectators alike were divided, with half the room wearing orange “yes” stickers, and the other half wearing red “no” stickers and hats.
“Let’s preserve this beautiful green area for future generations … we don’t need another 2,000 people in Tsawwassen,” said resident Jim Campbell in opposition to the project.
“I cannot understand why the majority rule just does not apply,” said Mary Haines, another opponent. “We do not want this. How many times do we have to say it?”
But fourth generation farmer and former agriculture minister John Savage became angry at the suggestion that homes will be paved over farmland.
“My family has been farming here for 126 years and I can tell you most of you don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, drawing a sharp reaction from the crowd. “The Southlands is sand.”
Savage asked rhetorically how many people currently opposing the project got to live in Tsawwassen in the first place, if not by building houses on former farmland. He said he’s farmed on the property before (when it was owned by the Spetifore family) and current soil conditions are such that it’s impossible to properly irrigate because of salt and sand.
In a turnabout of the famous John F. Kennedy quote, Henk Veldhuis said, “Many people are asking what the development can do for me, they should be asking what can this development do for the community?”
Others were put off by the idea of a 15-year build out for the plan, as Syd Hinds said nobody would want to live in a neighbourhood where construction would continue for that long. He added that the Tsawwassen Town Centre mall would become overrun with cars.
“We need to preserve our land for growing food, not for putting up subdivisions,” said Jennifer Allen, another opponent.
She said the houses shouldn’t be built on a floodplain, one of the biggest concerns of the project, which will require millions of dollars in drainage and soil remediation.
“My mother said if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Allen to thunderous applause from half the room.
Some supporters said the development would keep young people in Delta. Shawna Nickel, 28, told the crowd she’s starting a new business in Tsawwassen, but had to move out of Delta to live because of a lack of housing options.
“My huband and I love this community and we’d like to think it’s a place not only where we can work but where we can live,” she said.
C.R. MacDonald, who moved to Delta in 1973, proclaimed himself a member of the “silent majority” of residents in Tsawwassen who want to see homes built.
“There’s one thing as inevitable as death and taxes and that is change,” he said. “Eighty per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing.”
Former mayoral candidate John Meech said Tsawwassen needs new homes for seniors and young people, and that the agricultural component would be educational for neighbourhood children.
So far, however, the opponents have outnumbered the supporters. Peter Malim said no study has ever been undertaken proving the need for 950 new homes.
“Will this development have any affordable housing? No, it will all be market priced,” he said.
The public hearings resume Nov. 1, after taking a night off for Halloween, with the regular times of 3-6 p.m., an hour break, and then 7-9:30 p.m. Sign-ups for speakers begin at 2 p.m.
As it’s unlikely the public hearings will finish Friday, council will announce whether they continue Saturday or into next week.