Community

Students oppose City of Abbotsford’s proposal for commercial development at public hearing

One argument for rejecting the proposal was that it seems to negate the work that the Abbotsforward initiative has put in over the past year — namely, the data collected from Abbotsford citizens and the “7 Big Ideas” that came from it. Former Student Union Society (SUS) VP external Dylan Thiessen was one of those who pointed this out.

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By Megan Lambert (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 3, 2015

Cabela’s, a billion-dollar company founded in Nebraska, is eyeing a project for Abbotsford that may conflict with pedestrian-centric city planning around UFV.

Some said yes — but most said no.

Two weeks ago, the City of Abbotsford called for a public hearing regarding a proposal to build a commercial shopping plaza on the corner of McCallum Rd. and the Trans-Canada Highway. The development would be centred on the outdoor supply store Cabela’s, and would have a similar design to Highstreet or West Oaks — with lots of parking and modern-looking spaces for retail outlets. This would change the zoning bylaws from its current 88 per cent residential and 12 per cent commercial to 19 per cent residential and 81 per cent commercial.

The hearing opened with senior vice president at Urban Design Group Architects Aaron Vornbrock, who explained what the proposal would look like. He said there would be six single-storey outlets totalling at about 138,000 square feet. The new centre would replace a vacated trailer park.

Most speakers opposed the project for similar reasons; after a while, people apologized for being repetitive. One argument for rejecting the proposal was that it seems to negate the work that the Abbotsforward initiative has put in over the past year — namely, the data collected from Abbotsford citizens and the “7 Big Ideas” that came from it. Former Student Union Society (SUS) VP external Dylan Thiessen was one of those who pointed this out.

“I don’t think this development as it stands works with these ideas,” he said. “Another commercial development equally as spread out as HighStreet and Sevenoaks Mall will not help create a city centre — the first ‘big idea.’”

Thiessen went on to suggest that the structure for parking could be revised to create a multi-level or underground parkade — leaving more room for residential areas.

Among other residents, Thiessen also challenged the validity of the public hearing itself, as there are already bulldozers onsite and advertisements for the new complex online.

“[It] makes this entire exercise almost feel useless,” he said. “Like this is just one more hurdle City Council has to jump over before it finally gets to build its development.” He closed his argument saying he believes City Council is not ill-meaning, but that it has a responsibility to create a sustainable city.

According to recent UFV geography graduate Derrick Swallow, the project also interferes with U-District planning. The U-District has been in the works since 2012 and is looking to develop the areas around UFV into a sort of downtown hub of activity for students and the community. Swallow said there are already vacant big-box developments that once housed A&B Sound, Rona, Target, and Future Shop. He said that instead of building new developments, retailers can use these old spaces. He also noted that these vacancies point to big-box developments not being sustainable in the first place, and that the U-District presents an opportunity to change that.

“The McCallum corridor and U-District plan have some of the most promising potential for progressive change in Abbotsford,” he says.

Instead, Swallow says a pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use development would fit in with the livable atmosphere the U-District and Abbotsforward are trying to establish — effectively keeping more young people in Abbotsford.

“I was recently at a 10-year reunion for a secondary school in Abbotsford. Only a small fraction of the grad class was actually in attendance because the majority of the graduates already left Abbotsford,” he says. “If we, as a city, want to keep growing, we need to keep our young people, and that means providing jobs, amenities, and lifestyles that are attractive to them.

“This type of development represents Abbotsford’s past. At best, it does not contribute to redeeming our young population, and at worst it actively pushes them away.”

Some speakers were in favour of the project — three property managers and realtors spoke to the potential increase in property value.

“I believe this project will increase property values,” said realtor and property manager Colleen Floris. “Currently, I see a great desire for people purchasing in mixed-use developments, where there’s residential and commercial on the same property, simply because of the convenience.”

A few residents of the area also mentioned this, noting that the close proximity to their homes would mean amenities in walking distance.

Another argument for building the complex is that it would bring in traffic from outside Abbotsford, as Cabela’s is popular among people who enjoy hunting, fishing, and camping.

“I enjoy the outdoors very much,” one resident at the hearing said. “I think for a company like Cabela’s to approach Abbotsford and choose to put their store in our city, we should welcome them and embrace them as they will draw many people to our city.”

After the public hearing, the regular council meeting began and ended within 20 minutes. Councillor Dave Loewen suggested to move the item ahead because of the feedback heard that evening.

“In light of the opposition tonight, I would defer this to the next council meeting,” he said.

The motion carried, and regular council adjourned shortly after. The next Abbotsford City Council meeting is scheduled for June 15, where the executive meeting will be held at 1:00 p.m. before a public hearing at 7:00 p.m.

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