After ‘procedural error’ forces reset, Abbotsford Mayor calls for change to controversial neighbourhood plan
By Andrea Dante
The procedural mistake that forced Abbotsford city council to postpone the final vote to approve the McKee Peak neighbourhood plan may not be the last twist of this controversial proposal.
The plan, which envisages the construction of a new residential district in an undeveloped area of Abbotsford, has recently been at the centre of numerous controversies, including opposition from those who enjoy McKee Peak’s mountainside trails.
During the March 6 city council meeting, dozens of people showed their disappointment with the plan, mainly concerned about the environmental impact.
But after the meeting, the city announced that “a procedural error” with the readings of the bylaw meant that the public hearing would need to be “repeated.”
Mayor Ross Siemens said the plan would likely come back to council in June.
“I’m anticipating that there may be some changes,” Siemens said to The Voice.
Siemens did not share specific details of how he believes the plan should change, but he said city staff should focus on the critical issues of the project that have been highlighted by residents, especially regarding the wildlife corridors. Previously, during the city council meeting on March 27, Siemens asked staff to take into serious consideration people’s feedback before presenting the first and second readings.
“We were not caught off guard by that. We were expecting a fairly robust discussion,” said Siemens. He said the main reason for the protests was a lack of information.
“Many people didn’t realize that this is private land. I think a lot of people thought that this was city-owned land.”
Although he said he regretted lengthening the timeline, Siemens is determined to take advantage of this unexpected event to improve the project.
“This is a development that looks … 20 to 40 years into the future,” Siemens said. “So any extra time that it takes is not a bad thing.”
However, the mayor is ready for more debates regarding the McKee plan.
“I’m expecting that we’ll probably have another public hearing sometime in June, and I expect that people are still going to be passionate,” said Siemens, who added that he appreciated the engagement and civic interest shown by the citizens of Abbotsford.
Mike Thomas, vice president of Abbotsford Trail Running Club, disputes the mayor’s claim that a lack of information was the main reason for opposition to the project. Thomas knew the land was privately owned but still believes the city should do more to preserve the area.
“The land is on private land for the most part between about three different farmers. But they’ve always been kind enough to let us build trails and explore the area,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the city of Abbotsford should preserve the uniqueness of this area, which, according to the hiking and running software service Strava, is one of the area’s most popular routes.
“You go to a park around here, the open field, no one’s playing in it,” Thomas said. “People want to hike, they want to be part of nature and hear the trees.”
Diane Davies, who spoke to the city council on March 6 about the future of local wildlife, said the McKee plan is the latest step in a dangerous trend of city expansion that has been going on for a long time.
“They appear to be putting up condominiums, townhouses and just squishing it in everywhere,” Davies said.