More than 50 local residents gathered inside Cedar Room in Powell River Recreation Complex for a public information meeting on a proposed agricultural land reserve (ALR) exclusion for the development of a Sino Bright School campus in Townsite.
While less formal than a public hearing, the meeting hosted by City of Powell River staff on Wednesday, April 27, allowed staff to explain the intent of the exclusion application and provide a forum for residents’ opinions.
Staff heard from a variety of residents, including those concerned about the private school and trees on the land being cut, local farmers and those who thought the project would help Powell River’s economic development.
“Whether this land is excluded or not is a pivotal part of this project,” stated city chief administrative officer Mac Fraser. “What the applicant wants to do can’t go forward without that exclusion.”
PRSC Land Developments Ltd., which City of Powell River and Tla’amin Nation are partners in, has applied on behalf of Sino Bright Investments Ltd., to exclude a 12.1-hectare parcel of ALR land to build a private school campus.
The 12.1 hectares is part of a larger 54-hectare parcel Sino Bright has an offer on. Remaining land will stay inside the ALR, according to city manager of economic development Scott Randolph.
City director of planning Tom Knight told those at the meeting that the city was directed by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to start the rezoning and land-use amendment process. This will show a commitment to follow through with the project should the commission grant the exclusion he said.
Several residents attending the meeting stood up to speak against the exclusion and the loss of trees on the property.
“I’m just so concerned about not understanding the impact of taking this land out of ALR and putting in a business,” said resident Patricia Cocksedge. “I don’t know that this is the best purpose for taking the land out when we don’t know what’s going to happen down the line.”
BC forestry company Island Timberlands owns one-time cutting rights to some of the trees on the property. Regardless of whether the land stays inside the ALR, they will be cut down, said Randolph.
Roger Hodgins, a local farmer in Paradise Valley, asked why the trees couldn’t be left standing and another site be selected.
“It’s beautiful forest, but it’s not farmland,” he said. “Why can’t the school be built somewhere else?”
Erin Innes, a local permaculture farmer, said while the land may not seem suitable for pastures and tractors, it is nevertheless farmland and all farmland is under threat in BC.
Local agriculture advocate Angela Gunther, speaking on behalf of Society for the Advancement of Local Sustainable Agriculture, said the farmers group was against the exclusion unless the city took “substantive, meaningful steps towards promoting local agriculture.”
Powell River Regional District Electoral Area B director Alan Rebane said, while he supports the ALR, allowing the exclusion will have a net benefit for the farming community.
“It will bring in economic development and more people to make our farms more viable,” said Rebane. “It would be a travesty if we did not support this school for the economics of this town.”
School District 47 superintendent of schools Jay Yule said the district’s partnership with Sino Bright will continue whether or not the ALC approves the exclusion, and added that the project also has implications for Brooks.
“The trees are coming down,” he said. “The reality is the property is for sale. My concern is somebody is going to buy it at some point. It might be something we don’t want to see beside Brooks.”
Council gave third reading to the bylaw amendments at its meeting on Thursday, April 21. Once the ALC makes its decision on the exclusion, then council would give the amendments final adoption, if the exclusion is supported.
“Council wanted to send a message that their decision on zoning and official community plan has not yet been made,” said Fraser.
Council does not have the power to decide whether the land is excluded from the ALR, said Knight.
“Council’s role is to consider public opinion,” he said, “make the decision and then make a resolution on whether they support the land being excluded.”
The private school, including dormitories, will be operated by School District 47 and bring in 400 students enrolled at Sino Bright’s offshore BC school in China.