Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tsawwassen First Nation Land: A cautionary tale of a region without the ALR

It comes as no surprise to me that the BC Liberal government is not a strong supporter of the Agricultural Land Commission or the Agricultural Land Reserve. This summer, the government announced the terms of reference for a core review of its services. The core review will look at:

-Ensuring ministry programs and activities are focused on achieving government's vision of a strong economy and secure tomorrow.
-Confirming government's core responsibilities and eliminating programs that could provide better service at less cost through alternative service delivery models.
-Ensuring public-sector management wage levels are appropriate.

Bill Bennett was appointed as minister responsible for the core review. In August, Bennett was quoted as saying, “We’re going to look at some sacrosanct things, like certain agencies. We’re going to look at the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission.” This was the first hint that the government was looking at substantially changing how (and if) farm land is protected in BC.

Last week, a cabinet document was leaked which talked about a plan to breaking up the ALR. Another letter leaked by the NDP this week noted that the government had instructed the ALC to not start a major boundary review of the land reserve.

"Given the current core review process that is under way, I believe it would be prudent, during the period of the core review of the ALC and the ALR, to defer any ALC decisions that would fundamentally affect the ALR (for instance, inclusions or exclusions of major blocks of land)"

It was also revealed this week that Agricultural Minster Pat Pimm was trying to politically influence the ALC because of a land-use decision that affected one of his constituents.

With current government threatening to dismantle the Agricultural Land Reserve, I thought it would be a good time to repost a piece I put up on the now defunct Metro604 blog. What is happening on Tsawwassen First Nation land today is really a canary in the coal mind; it shows what will happening throughout our region if the ALR is dismantled.

Several months ago on my way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, I noticed that major construction was taking place on Tsawwassen First Nation’s (TFN) land on the north side of Highway 17. I decided to look into what is going on in the area.

In 2007, the TFN signed a treaty with the federal and provincial governments which transfers the former TFN Reserve plus an additional 988 acres of land to the TFN under fee-simple ownership. Fee-simple is how the majority of private land is owned in Canada. The majority of the 988 acres was in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). As a result of the treaty, 355 acres of land was removed from the ALR and is now part of the TFN’s Industrial Land base. A further 180 acres was removed from the ALR and will now be used for auto-oriented, suburban shopping centres.

Since the treaty came into force and the TFN adopted their land use plan in 2011, development has been full-steam ahead.

ALR in Tsawwassen First Nation land. Brown colour is land included in the ALR. Salmon colour is land that was excluded from the ALR. Click image to enlarge.

The Neighbourhood Planning Area (see map below) which is sited on the former TFN Reserve is now called Tsawwassen Shores. This 270 acre project will have a mix of housing types (50% single-family, 35% townhouses, and 15% 5-storey or less apartments); include greenways, cycling paths, and walking facilities; and will included a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented village hub, which will include shops. The total population of this project is estimated to be 4,350 once fully built-out. This project appears to fit within the Metro Vancouver vision of building pedestrian-friendly nodes that can be connected with transit.

Tsawwassen First Nation’s Land Use Plan. Click image to enlarge.

The thing that disturbs me is the 1,100,000 square foot Tsawwassen Mills enclosed shopping mall, and 550,000 square feet Tsawwassen Commons Power Centre that are currently being built along the Highway 17 corridor. To put things into perspective, these two mall projects will have a similar amount of retail space as Metrotown Mall.

Looking at these two projects, I feel like I’m back in the 1960s when we ripped up farmland for shopping malls. These Tsawwassen projects do nothing to create a vibrant, walkable, urban community and certainly aren’t transit-oriented. It’s about getting people to drive their cars from one end of the region to the extreme southwest corner of Metro Vancouver to go shopping. In fact, the marketing brochure for Tsawwassen Commons talks about how the South Fraser Perimeter Road is one of the reasons why this project is viable. With that in mind, I have to wonder if the proposed expansion of the Massey Tunnel is part of the plan to open up suburban development in Delta and Tsawwassen.

Site plan for Tsawwassen Commons and Tsawwassen Mills. Click image to enlarge.

I find it odd that while most former large, auto-oriented mall sites in Metro Vancouver are being redeveloped into more pedestrian, transit-friendly, and even mixed-use sites; that these Tsawwassen malls would even get past the concept stage in this day and age. What this shows me is the strong link between land-use and transportation systems. If you build billions of dollars’ worth of freeways, you’ll get massive auto-oriented shopping malls. Likewise, if you invest in rapid transit, you’ll get mixed-use, transit-oriented centres like what is happening along the Millennium Line SkyTrain in Burnaby.

To me, these Tsawwassen mall projects completely violate the vision of creating a livable Metro Vancouver. And it saddens me that this sort of development is still happening, away from regional town centres and away from transit corridors. These malls will create more congestion and pollution in Metro Vancouver. I also worry about how projects like these will take away potential retail opportunities and slow down growth in our regional town centres like Whalley.

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