Steveston and Garden City Lands—beware of linked gifts

The Onni open house about Steveston waterfront rezoning added no details about the proposed Onni gift to Steveston Community Centre. I’m skeptical. The half-million dollars waved in front of the community centre association has the look of a bad precedent.

If developers aren’t paying their fair share for community costs, city council should simply charge developers more and pass on the proceeds. Rezoning should be approved or rejected on its own merits, not because of linkage to donations.

Something similar happened with the application for provincial rezoning of the Garden City Lands from Agricultural Land Reserve status in 2008. Canada Lands Company CLC and the Musqueam Indian Band were said to have offered $10 million for a Richmond “agricultural endowment fund” to influence the Agricultural Land Commission, which has ALR rezoning power.

That “fund” was alluring, but my thorough search has uncovered no money, no agreement, and no promise of any direct payment by either party. There’s just a Canada Lands note of support for the fund idea.

Worse, the “agricultural endowment fund” evolved toward favouring large “bona fide farmers.” That scenario was divisive and bad for local food security, and Richmond’s Agricultural Advisory Committee never endorsed the “fund.”

But the bad effects took on a life of their own. The mayor ended up suggesting the City would pay up to $3.75 million into the “fund” in a ten-year period, replacing interest that might have been earned if Canada Lands and the Band had put in the $10 million to begin with.

After seeming happily dead, the “fund” came back to haunt us when the band sued the city this year. The statement of claim says the application to get the Garden City Lands out of the ALR “confirmed that Musqueam and the CLC had agreed to contribute $10 million towards an agricultural endowment fund to provide substantial benefits to agriculture.”

The “fund” fiasco has helped the suing party to appear to have done much for us ungrateful wretches. That makes the city’s legal struggle harder, even though we should still win with the top lawyers that council finally hired.

The Onni offer is a different can of worms, but the painful lesson from the “agricultural endowment fund” still applies. When rezoning applications get linked to donations, the payoff can be nothing but trouble.

The “Onni Steveston” category in the Main Menu includes more on this issue.

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