An application from PRSC Land Developments for the exclusion of 30 acres from the province’s land reserve in order to sell it to Sino Bright School BC is now in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
City council voted unanimously to support application by PRSC, a joint company of City of Powell River and Tla’amin Nation, at its meeting on Thursday, June 2.
Mayor Dave Formosa presented a motion that council support the 30-acre exclusion, despite a staff report recommending that council only support the exclusion less a six-acre slice of fair-grade agricultural land.
One after the other, council spoke to the reasons why they supported the application.
“Fundamentally, it comes down to the agricultural land commission to make a decision,” said councillor CaroleAnn Leishman. “It’s not city council’s decision.”
She said that Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) exclusions present a philosophical dilemma for some people, but she was supporting the application because of the amount of community need she has seen in the past year and half as a councillor.
“In the last year and a half, I’ve learned way more than I thought I would about the challenges we face taxation-wise and the number of people, young families and youth, who have to leave because there are no jobs. It’s really scary,” she said. “This could be an amazing opportunity for us. In my heart, I have to support this.”
Lund resident Erin Innes, who had appeared before council as a delegation earlier and laid out an ecological case for not supporting the further erosion of the province’s reserve, interrupted Leishman’s speech from the gallery.
“Let me know how it goes eating your philosophy. This is not philosophical,” said Innes, before storming out of the meeting.
Formosa said that agriculture has been identified as an important component in the development of Powell River. The international school will not only help with the city’s economic diversification, but also to promote the development of agriculture through the incubator farm, which Sino Bright has confirmed it will support with residual land from its purchase, he said.
“In the Sustainable Official Community Plan (SOCP), economic development is a main driver,” said Formosa. “As much as I support agriculture, I don’t want to see a situation where it may get in the way of investments like this school; something this community desperately needs.”
Councillor Russell Brewer, referring to the issue of the senior planner’s initial recommendation, said staff has the city’s best interests at heart, but when decisions reach council they become political.
He said that despite the fact the SOCP references the maintaining of agricultural land, it also includes provisions specific to developing and diversifying the city’s tax base.
“There’s no question our SOCP has a huge number of objectives and policies outlined in it,” said Brewer. “We have to take a step back and look at the whole SOCP, that’s how I look at it.”
Brewer said if the project goes forward it would present the city some opportunities to work with the developers to include items such as a cycle path along Marine Avenue leading from Townsite to Westview.
“I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, no question,” said Brewer, “but if I look at it all on balance, this is a good opportunity for the community.”
Councillor Rob Southcott said the city has been looking for opportunities to diversify its tax base for decades and Sino Bright is the first initiative that seems to be coming to fruition. “That’s hugely significant,” he said.
Councillor Jim Palm said Sino Bright has demonstrated its intent to develop the school and help Powell River and now it is the city’s turn to do the same.
“They’ve demonstrated their intent. We need to do that in-kind for them,” said Palm. “I’m very glad to see the direction council is taking on this.”
Councillor Karen Skadsheim said while she would have preferred to see an application for land exemption, rather than exclusion, she supports the initiative because she is “tremendously impressed” by Sino Bright’s written support for moving an incubator-farm project forward and its commitment to providing community amenities in lieu of property taxes. “Eroding [the ALR] is not something I take lightly,” she said.
If the ALC approves the application, Sino Bright has plans to purchase 132 acres of PRSC land and develop a 30-acre Townsite parcel next to Brooks Secondary School into an international school campus.