By Don Burke, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Dear Mayor Braun and Abbotsford City Council Members, This letter is on behalf of the physicians of Abbotsford and like-minded professionals.
It is my understanding that city council is intending to vote on whether to remove two parcels of land, one near the airport (Plan B), and the other in Bradner (Plan A), from ALR protection in order to allow industrial development. I also understand that there is a public hearing scheduled for July 17th at city hall regarding this topic.
I believe that removing these lands from ALR protection, especially as it pertains to the Bradner (Plan A) area, will be a terrible mistake. We need to re-examine the domino effect that such a destruction of fertile green space will have on the future of our community, as well as on the image our city is trying to promote (‘City in the Country’).
In our attempt to recruit needed healthcare providers to this area, we have to be mindful of the fact that many, if not most practitioners, will be attracted to our city as a place which is unique in terms of natural beauty and a place that is able to integrate population growth with the natural surroundings, much like the city planning in Sweden.
Unfortunately, creating industrial parks in pristine and fertile regions will have devastating consequences. I recently visited the Bradner area and took several photos. The land is actually quite fertile, with fresh streams and abundant flora & fauna of various species. This land could readily be used for various and prosperous agricultural projects, and as you are probably aware, ecologically-based industries are more sustainable and provide more jobs than do commercial warehouses. (After all, how many people would be working in one large warehouse…3 or 4 people operating forklifts? What kind of job growth is that?)
The negative health effects of noise and air pollution that will arise should this land be used for industrial purposes, will have a detrimental health effect. We already have a significant lung problem in the region; we don’t need to worsen it. As you may know, children are the most vulnerable to toxins like diesel fumes. The large number of transport trucks that will go through the area will pollute the air, without question. At what point does the health of our youth come secondary to industrial development? Do your developers have a solution for that? Will they hand out face masks to all the kids, like they do in Beijing?
The roads in the Bradner area are already over-used, and not designed to handle that increased level of heavy traffic. Consider children on their bicycles trying to navigate those congested streets. Vehicles do not drive slowly on those roads, and with the increased traffic, it will make for more distracted drivers. Accidents will happen more often.
Many professionals come to our area hoping to find a piece of land that they can enjoy. There is an increasing trend to get out of the ‘condo’ environment and more into a natural one. We are running out of fertile land that is affordable. This sends out the wrong message when we are trying to promote Abbotsford as a ‘city in the country’. Rather than attracting young professions, you will actually drive them away. Why not try to introduce the concept of keeping the ‘country in the city’? You would have a much better chance of attracting the people you want to live here, and thereby help our municipality prosper in so many ways.
I recently tried to recruit a needed specialist to this area, and the response I received was the result of bad media coverage, but nonetheless was a reflection of the image people have of us.
“Do you mean the place where the city dumped chicken dung on the homeless area? I saw it in the national news. Really eco-friendly place! No thanks.”
We have the ability to change our image and have something which is looked upon by others far and wide as an example of how a community can combine nature and economy. We can keep the ‘country in the city’ if we choose to. We cannot allow single-minded developers to swoon us with false promises of jobs by destroying natural spaces within the city. And where will they find people for the few jobs they create? Companies will transfer-in their own employees from outside places to work in their warehouses. It won’t create local jobs. More importantly, once farmland (and our image as a model city) is destroyed, it will be irreparable.
Mennonite settlers, decades ago, transformed what was deemed ‘unfarmable’ land into this incredibly prolific agricultural area. This history can be seen in the Abbotsford Mennonite Museum. What would those visionary settlers think today of changing fertile lands into parking lots and warehouses? Please do not go backwards for the sake of short-term monetary gains. If you make the move to preserve the precious green spaces that we have, you will attract a wide variety of forward-thinking people who want to be a part of such a model community.
Please never allow the lure of money to become a major decision-maker, as you may end up penny rich, but environment poor. You have the ability to make Abbotsford stand out amongst all communities in Canada as a leader in environmentally-friendly city planning. Who, in the end, will be advantaged by removing these regions from ALR protection? A few developers? And at what cost to the city’s image, what to speak of the negative effects from air and noise pollution, the increased traffic and inherent risk to the people of all ages using those roads?
Furthermore, do we really need more traffic congestion on highway 1? The addition of many hundreds of large trucks brought in by commercial warehouses will only add to our already over-burdened roads. We have a difficult time attracting medical residents to want to train in Abbotsford Regional Hospital because the traffic alone makes the journey back and forth intolerable. They would rather stay in the Vancouver area than visit our facility.
I ask, on behalf of my healthcare colleagues, that you postpone your decisions regarding the intended ALR exclusion of the Bradner region (Area A) until more information can be obtained regarding alternative ideas for the use of the land. There are many alternative options that would equally provide tax revenues for the city, in addition to fostering the image we all want to promote. Don’t become the ones who destroyed the city’s potential, but rather become those who created an example for all to follow. All too often, the promise of money overrides common sense. Keep in mind that we all want prosperity in our region. Please let insight prevail. Create a model that will make professionals and innovators from all over want to call Abbotsford home.
Don Burke, MD, FRCPC, FACP
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