The viability of farming on the Southlands will undoubtedly be a contentious topic of debate once again as a development proposal by the Century Group comes up for more discussion.
Now mostly vacant, the Tsawwassen property was originally owned by the Spetifore family, which grew crops there as early as the 1930s. By the early 1970s, their operation, called Triple S Farms, was at 700 acres, producing mainly strawberries, potatoes, corn, pumpkin, squash, peas, beans and cucumbers.
In July of 1971, however, it was reported in the Optimist that George Spetifore declared farming in Delta was finished because of marketing problems, expropriation, competition and a lack of interest in the business. At the time, he said that perhaps 200 to 300 years from now his land might be necessary for agriculture again, but "now it might as well be taken up for residential development."
A huge housing development proposed for the site in the early 1970s went down in defeat, as did another controversial proposal in 1989, which resulted in the longest public hearing in Canadian history. The province removed the property from the Agricultural Land Reserve in the early 1980s, but it is still zoned agricultural.
More recently, the Century Group pitched a development proposal comprising 1,900 housing units. That proposal, however, never even made it to Delta council following a difficult and controversial Tsawwassen Area Plan renewal process.
Instead, council began a process to put the land back in the ALR. Century Group president Sean Hodgins received a lot of support at the ALR application public hearing from residents that came out to say his proposal never got a fair chance.
Questions about the viability of the land for soil-based farming due to a plethora of issues, including drainage problems, was also raised, although opponents of development continue to maintain the land is good enough to farm.
Mayor Lois Jackson eventually shut down the hearing and allowed Hodgins to come back with a revised proposal that would give much more of the land to Delta. Hodgins' current proposal includes 950 housing units as well as giving 80 per cent of the more than 500-acre property to the municipality, much of it to be used for farming.
At a Delta Agricultural Advisory Committee meeting earlier this summer, it was noted one of the key issues raised by the other advisory committees was the need for a defined plan for the proposed dedication of 80 per cent of the land, as well as a clear understanding of the cost implications for its management and upgrade.
In his presentation, the applicant identified possible public uses, including a combination of large lot agriculture, smaller lot agriculture and a number of natural areas.
It was noted by Delta CAO George Harvie that staff would be researching options, including consideration of a long-term lease for a large agricultural component. A long-term lease could be an incentive for the farmer to make a personal investment in the property, such as soil and ditch upgrades that would contribute to the productivity of the land, the agriculture committee was told.
Harvie also noted staff, in consultation with the Delta Farmers' Institute, would work towards identifying what the best options would be for the agricultural component of the proposed project.
The committee also discussed whether crops could be cultivated without irrigation improvements. It was commented that potatoes and grain have been successfully grown on the site in the past, and other potential crops that have thrived without access to irrigation water included early kale, barley and corn.
Also at that meeting was B.C. Ministry of Agriculture agrologist Kathleen Zimmerman, who noted the proposed development has some issues, including limited access and maneuverability for agriculture vehicles, adequate water would be required for sustainable farming and the proposed trails could contribute to conflict between farmers and residents, Even if Delta council eventually approves a proposal, Metro Vancouver's approval is also required.
. Delta is hosting a public information meeting on the current Southlands application at the South Delta Recreation Centre tomorrow. Staff will provide an overview of the application at 4: 30 p.m. and again at 7: 30 p.m. Between 3 and 8: 30 p.m., staff will be available to answer questions