The City’s relationship with the Agricultural Land Reserve came into question after a request by the Shipton family for City council to support rezoning their agricultural land into industrial stirred up questions about business versus land planning.
“I don’t see the harm in letting the Shiptons approach the Agricultural Land Commission (about the land),” said councillor Shaely Wilbur. “I have to ask myself, are we open for business?”
Ashley and John Shipton, landowners of Diamond J. Farms, asked the council on Monday to allow them to approach the Agricultural Land Commission to exclude a half section of land directly across from the Dawson Creek airport that is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Agricultural Land Reserve is portions of land designated by the province for agricultural use only.
They are also negotiating with the Ministry of Transportation, since some of their land will also be excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve to twin Highway 2.
By getting other parts of the land excluded from the Reserve, the Shiptons said they hoped to sell the land for industrial development. The Shiptons were also looking for an endorsement from the council, since they believed that would make the Commission more likely to grant their request.
According to information Ashley presented to council, this land was very much in need.
“If you eliminate the 118 acres that has been sitting off market and undeveloped then the land use increases dramatically, leaving Dawson Creek just over a year to completely exhaust supply,” wrote Shipton. “This leaves very little highway frontage land, no competitive pricing, or large size lots available to investors.”
One letter written by Kevin Kurjata, a local real estate agent, echoed this sentiment.
“I have had interested investors in industrial lots, but due to lack of industrial land available in Dawson Creek I have been unable to meet their needs,” said Kurjata. “Increasing the amount of industrial land available to investors will help draw business to the City of Dawson Creek rather than Fort St. John and Grande Prairie.”
According to information presented by the Shiptons, there are only five industrial listings available to local realtors.
“Is this sending the message to investors that Dawson Creek is open for business?” Ashley Shipton asked. “Denying this proposal results in a very limited amount of industrial land that is actually available to investors who are interested in spending their money in Dawson Creek.”
She also said that this meant there was no competitive pricing for investors looking to come into the region.
“If adequate amounts of industrial land are available then why are we being repeatedly approached by investors?”
However, this would be a change from how the land was designated by previous City councils.
In 2007, the City approved the South Peace Comprehensive Development Plan (SPCDP). The plan was done to provide a “planning document meant to assist local governments (Dawson Creek, Pouce Coupe, and the Peace River Regional District) in responding to future (expected 15 year timeframe) development opportunities” according to a report written by Kevin Henderson, the city’s director of infrastructure and sustainable development.
That plan designated that the land was not zoned for industrial use.
“(Council) will be messaging that you no longer believe in the plans,” said Jim Chute, the city’s chief administrative officer.
The plan took two years to make, he said, and changing it would require effort.
Staff recommended that they not go ahead with this measure, and later on in the meeting Chute said that staff continued to not make that recommendation.
Chute also said that he disagreed with the figures about how much land was available. He said that more land was available, but that it had yet to be developed and subdivided into land that could be sold by realtors.
Another complication was a report provided by Vancouver-based Urban Systems, which stated that all of the land immediately around Dawson Creek that is Class 1, capable of growing “pretty much anything,” according to Chute.
“The soils around Dawson Creek are the only such soil in the entire Peace Country,” he said. “We are trapped by it.”
The Shiptons denied this claim. They said that in speaking with other farmers, this land was mostly Class 2, a less fertile type of soil.
Councillor Terry McFadyen moved for the council to propose that it go ahead with a letter of support for the Shipton’s exclusion.
However, Councillor Duncan Malkinson moved for an alternative motion to put off the decision until the next meeting, after councillors had some time to get more information.
Bernier said the decision would be “challenging” for councillors.
“Although a lot of people would say it really makes sense, the challenge that council has was that we’ve already signed a statement saying that we would not sign this out in exchange for the other lands in the community,” he said. “We want to get more information and really make sure that we make a proper decision for the community.”
He also mentioned that previous City councils had made extensive consultations with the public when the SPCDP was first made. Land investors make their decisions based on what city council has made available through measures like the SPCDP.
“People make investment decisions based on these decisions made through the (SDCDP),” he said. “They’re holding onto that … going through another land and putting it in could negatively affect the market.”
Councillors must weigh whether or not any public benefits would outweigh the private benefits to these landowners, he added.
“Realistically, I think… there’s been years of public consultation about this decision and to change this decision in one meeting would be very difficult,” he said.
Despite the Shiptons’ information, Bernier said that there was room for investors in Dawson Creek.
“We have lots of lands available and we want that message to get out there.”