City of Powell River council has deferred its decision on support for the Sino Bright School land exclusion, pending comments from the school’s developers.
A recommendation that council protect a portion of the land up for Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) exclusion was presented to council by city senior planner Jason Gow at its Tuesday, May 17, committee of the whole meeting.
“From staff’s perspective, the suitability of this land to be farmed is the crux of this application and should determine whether support for this application be granted,” stated Gow in his report.
Staff’s report recommends council support the exclusion, less approximately six acres of fair agricultural land, about 20 percent of the parcel.
A narrow strip of fair land stretching across the lower potion of the property was identified in the Madrone Environmental Services soil study conducted on the parcel in 2007.
In March, the city received notification from the BC Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) of an exclusion request from PRSC Land Development Ltd., a partnership of the city and Tla’amin Nation. The request was for a 30-acre parcel to be taken out of the provincial land reserve for the development of an international school adjacent to Brooks Secondary School. If the city does not support the exclusion, the application will not move forward, stated Gow.
According to Andrew Bryant, a local researcher and biologist, the proposed location of the school lies directly over top of the nine acres.
Policies for ALR exclusions are clearly stated in the city’s sustainable official community plan, said Bryant, and require the city to maintain land with agricultural potential in the ALR for future uses.
Reaction from council at the committee of the whole meeting was mixed. Mayor Dave Formosa said he was shocked when he read Gow’s report.
“I believe the report’s recommendation should say that the city does not support the exclusion,” said Formosa. “This is not what the proponents have been asking or looking for.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she does not see staff’s recommendation as the end of the development. She said that looking at the original proposal she thinks it may be possible for the school to be higher up on the proposed site, located on the steeper portion of the property, and may fit with the initial tiered design of the school.
According to Formosa, the location of the six-acre fair land strip will create a barrier for the developers. The initial development permit requested road access to the parcel off Marine Avenue.
“You pretty much render useless the rest of the property,” said Formosa. “What this will do is restrict the development and maybe even see [Sino Bright] walk.”
Councillor Jim Palm stated he is concerned about the project’s future and the implications this report could have on the proponent’s application.
“For this little tract of land to stop a major development going forward for this community would be a travesty,” said Palm. “Everybody in the community knows how long we’ve been talking about the importance of international education.”
Formosa said he does not support sending the recommendation to the ALC as it currently stands because it may give the ALC a reason to deny the whole exclusion.
Planning staff agreed to take the report back to proponents at Sino Bright for their thoughts before it is submitted to the ALC.
Staff will provide a report at the Thursday, June 2, council meeting.
Sino Bright School timeline
The story of a Sino Bright School development in Townsite has been one the Peak has followed for several years. Here is a look back at the story so far:
Selected by the BC Ministry of Education as an offshore school inspector, Jay Yule, School District 47 superintendent of schools, travels to the People’s Republic of China in December to inspect Beijing No. 8 Sino Bright School, operated in China by a Coquitlam-based company.
Yule returns to Powell River with the idea that instead of School District 47 sponsoring a BC offshore school, a huge outlay of resources, it would be better to attract international students to Powell River.
Yule and Sino Bright executive director Quan Ouyang agreed to establish a partnership to bring Chinese students to Powell River for winter and summer programs as well as providing teachers, administrators and educational supports for BC offshore schools in China.
Success of the Powell River programs leads to Sino Bright developing a campus at Oceanview Education Centre, a School District 47 building undergoing transformation after the district eliminated middle schools due to shrinking student numbers.
In July, the provincial government grants a provisional licence to Sino Bright and the school district to operate a Powell River-based international school.
Brooks vice-principal Shannon Behan is promoted to district principal responsible for international education. Behan takes a year-long posting as Beijing No. 8 Sino Bright principal.
In September, City of Powell River mayor Dave Formosa travels to China as part of a city, school district and Vancouver Island University delegation to expand international education opportunities. Formosa states that developing international education is part of the city’s economic revitalization plans.
In October, just prior to the municipal elections, the mayor announces that Sino Bright intends to purchase a 132-acre parcel of land near Brooks Secondary School to establish a 400-student campus with dormitories. PRSC Land Development Ltd, a corporation jointly owned between the City of Powell River and Tla’amin Nation, is tasked to sell land to improve regional economic development. The proximity of Sino Bright to Brooks would allow students to attend the high school for elective classes.
In April, Island Timberlands (IT), a Vancouver Island-based forestry company that owns tree rights on Lot 450 PRSC land, the location of the proposed campus, announces that it intends to exercise those rights in the coming months. IT begins cutting Lot 450 trees on its private managed forest land adjacent to PRSC land. IT stops harvest after community backlash and leaves PRSC land uncut.
In June, Formosa, Yule and a VIU representative travel to Beijing to inspect Sino Bright School and meet with school officials on Powell River development. Formosa is told that if the city is able to help get the property ready for development, Sino Bright is dedicated to building a campus to include a college. The land that Sino Bright wishes to purchase is inside provincial Agricultural Land Reserve and exclusion will require application to BC Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
In October, Powell River councillors report to Union of BC Municipalities that Sino Bright development would have large impact on Powell River economy, generating $37.4 million from construction, $18.9 million in gross domestic product for BC and create over 100 jobs in School District 47.
In November, the provincial government enacts Bill 29, legislation that gives statutory property tax exemptions to private schools. Despite city tax implications, councillor Jim Palm says the Sino Bright project will help bring more students and families to Powell River.
In December, city director of planning Thomas Knight makes a presentation to city council on the process to change zoning and land-use designation on PRSC land to facilitate Sino Bright project and signal to ALC that the city supports development. The land deal is subject to ALC exclusion and city bylaw amendments.
In January, Knight provides council with clarification on Sino Bright land-use amendments. Staff is concerned about the subdivided, 30-acre piece of the 132.2-acre original parcel being zoned commercial and says the proponent agrees to have it zoned as institutional.
In March, the city is asked by ALC to review the PRSC application for land exclusion and provide comment.
In April, the city holds a public hearing on amendments to zoning and sustainable official community plan amendments for Sino Bright project. Community members raise issue of saving trees on parcel, part of Lot 450 concerns. Ouyang submits letter saying the school would partner with the community to provide agriculture on the property and if the community does not support the development the school would not pursue building there. Several members of the public speak in favour of the rezoning to allow the development.
Two weeks later, the city hosts a public information meeting at Powell River Recreation Complex to gauge public support for PRSC’s exclusion application. Approximately 50 people attend. Concerns are raised about loss of trees and whether land in the parcel is economically viable agricultural land. Public comment is generally against pursuing the exclusion application.
Yule says Island Timberlands has rights to the trees and will cut them, regardless of Sino Bright’s development; the property is still for sale and a school is a good fit for neighbouring Brooks, says Yule.