A proposed private international school development project located next to Brooks Secondary School has been given the initial go-ahead by City of Powell River.
Thomas Knight, director of planning for the city, made a presentation on staff’s next steps for the Sino Bright school project to the council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday, December 8.
“It’s going to be exciting times for us here,” said Knight.
Sino Bright Investments made an offer last spring to PRSC Land Developments to purchase 132.86 acres of property located east of Brooks. The Coquitlam-based company operates BC offshore schools in China and wants to build a Powell River campus on a 30-acre piece of the land.
Before it can begin development, the land has to be excluded from the province’s agricultural land reserve (ALR), a subject of the deal with PRSC.
Knight’s presentation to council confirmed the city’s interest in having staff amend the Sustainable Official Community Plan (SOCP) and work to rezone the land when it comes out of the ALR.
Knight explained the project is more complex than previous rezoning applications.
“This is one we can cut our teeth on because there are actually three separate applications that are involved,” he said.
The SOCP amendment will reassign the land from Agricultural to Employment Centre, one which allows for the school and dormitories.
The zoning bylaw will reassign the land classified as Large Lot Rural to Institutional. The proponents initially wanted the land rezoned to Commercial (C1), but staff advised that Institutional (NT) classification may be more appropriate.
“Staff do have a problem with that designation to C1,” said Knight. “It gives carte blanche to almost any kind of commercial activity and I would not want to see a large shopping centre being built on there. That would impact our existing commercial.”
Knight said he expects the bylaw amendments for zoning and SOCP to be introduced at council’s meeting on Thursday, January 7. Both bylaws will be brought to third reading and then left until the Agricultural Land Commission, the final arbiter on the 30-acre exclusion, makes its determination.
Once that decision is made, the subjects to the land sale will be removed, Sino Bright will purchase the land and council can approve the zoning and SOCP changes, he said.
Knight reported to council that city services and road access will also need to be dealt with. The school will have Marine Avenue access and require working with the ministry of highways and infrastructure.
At a press conference before the local elections in 2014, mayor Dave Formosa announced the Sino Bright project as one of several that would help the city rebuild its tax base. But that hope for tax revenue from the school evaporated with the BC government’s passage last month of Bill 29, legislation that gives statutory property tax breaks for private schools in the province.
“Down the road if they change the part of the zoning to commercial we can tax that,”said mayor Dave Formosa. “We want economic development and we don’t want to shoo these people away. We’ll be winning, but just not as much as we thought.”
Despite fewer tax dollars generated, city councillor Jim Palm reminded those at the meeting of the project’s importance for the school district.
“I can tell you in no uncertain terms that with the declining enrolment, the school district is up against it,” said Palm. “We have to be very cognizant of that fact the whole way along here. We need youth in Powell River.”