A divided audience packed council chambers Monday evening as proponents of the $80-million Wren Creek development argued in favour of jobs and taxes, while opponents warned against irreparably damaging the environment.
Roughly 30 people voiced their thoughts about the project before council voted 7-0 to approve third reading.
“I want you to really think about when you destroy something, like our wetlands, like our ravines, like our species at-risk, when we destroy what is unique and precious in our world, we never have it again,” said resident Catherine MacDonald.
Support and opposition to the development was divided right up the middle, with half speaking in favour and another 12 who couldn’t accept the application in its current form, mostly citing environmental concerns.
“If this council is serious in its commitment to demonstrate that the District of Mission is open for business and that council focused on bringing property tax relief to residents, then approval of this proposal should be a no-brainer,” said Cory Cassel.
Although many people took their five-minute time allotment to speak about environmental worries of developing 32 acres of the property, Mayor Ted Adlem surprised the room by saying the public hearing was just a land use question and that questions about the environment should be directed to senior levels of government.
The Wren Creek proposal first applied for a variance in June 2009, which spurred a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) screening, including investigation from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to confirm that no harmful alteration or destruction of fish habitat would occur on the site.
That process took nearly three years to complete, with DFO concluding in February that the project is “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects,” though DFO took into account the proponent’s mitigation plan, which includes purchasing the nearby Sun Valley Trout Park, to be converted into a fish habitat preserve.
Getting environmental approval had been tricky, with Environment Canada noting the area is a known habitat for 10 federally endangered species, while specifically the provincially red-listed Oregon Forestsnail had been found on the site.
But Adlem said there’s a double standard between those projects from government agencies which receive quick environmental approval, and private businesses who are given the run around.
“If you happen to be a part of [the government] and you have a project, instead of double talk you get double speed,” he said, referring to the speedy approval for the widening of the Lougheed Highway between Wren and Nelson streets nearby the developer’s property.
Several people tried to bridge the chasm between new tax dollars and the environment, suggesting the development should be limited to the eastern portion of the site, and kept away from the Silverdale wetlands which it borders.
“I believe that we can have a development like this and we can work together to collaborate to answer as many of the environmental issues as possible, knowing the benefit of the economic and the social issues,” said Barb Strachan.
Rebuffing claims the development will only bring in minimum wage jobs, former councillor Mike Scudder said, “I know what it’s like to have a mother lose her job when Eaton’s moved to Abbotsford. And it was probably the equivalent of a McJob in its day. But that job sustained our family when my father was working three different jobs and my mother was working one,” he said to applause.
The environment wasn’t the only thing people spoke out against. Former councillor Heather Stewart, who voted against the now-approved development at Cedar Street and Lougheed Highway because it included two drive-thru restaurants, said she likes the Wren Creek idea but will not support another drive-thru.
The application is submitted under the comprehensive development zone to allow for two drive-thrus, which skirts around the district’s own bylaw prohibiting them. Two previous petitions have been forwarded to council opposing drive-thru restaurants, including a 794-signature petition last May.
But council was unmoved by her objections, with Coun. Dave Hensman saying that not only were these drive-thrus welcome, Mission should have more. Adlem, who ran a drive-thru Wendy’s restaurant for 15 years, said council cannot be taken seriously in its slogan that Mission is open for business if it denies drive-thrus, hinting the bylaw might one day be scrapped altogether.
There are several requirements prior to adoption of the application, including receipt of $422,250 Community Amenity Contribution (based on 150 residential units); engineering requirements; Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure requirements; federal authorization under the Fisheries Act and provincial authorization under the Water Act; a letter from the environment ministry confirming rezoning can proceed; and a tree inventory.