City of Powell River council is considering another application to BC Agricultural Land Commission for the Sino Bright School project. This time, councillors are hoping to add more land into the provincial agricultural reserve than they are asking to have removed.
The city’s August 2016 request to have the commission remove 30 acres of designated agricultural land from the provincial reserve was denied a year ago.
Since then, the city has said Sino Bright’s owners have remained committed to the idea of locating their 400-student campus for Chinese international students in Powell River.
“There’s a potential for that property where Sino Bright originally wanted to establish its campus,” said councillor Russell Brewer.
Brewer added that the 30 acres next to Brooks Secondary School is not the only potential location being investigated.
A delegation of five Chinese officials visited Powell River earlier this month to see Brooks and learn more about the project, said councillor Rob Southcott.
“Sino Bright is still committed to working with this community,” said Southcott.
Southcott said Sino Bright has demonstrated its commitment to work with Powell River and not view the region as simply a place with less expensive land.
“Sino Bright wants to bring their kids to benefit from what we have and, in turn, benefit our community,” he said. “That's how it works.”
The school is expected to generate approximately $10.5 million of economic activity in Powell River each year and help diversify the local economy.
In its November 2016 decision, the Agricultural Land Commission panel noted that while owners of land within the reserve have the right to apply for it be excluded, the purpose of the agricultural land reserve is to protect agricultural land.
The land commission does not process land swaps, but does consider the wider context of how agricultural land is being protected, said Southcott.
When the city applied to the commission in August 2016, the land was owned by PRSC Limited Partnership, a joint venture between Tla’amin Nation’s Tees’kwat Land Holdings and the city’s Powell River Waterfront Development Corporation. The city bought the 132-acre parcel for $800,000 in May 2017.
Brewer said the majority of councillors support a no-net-loss of agricultural land in the region.
On November 16, council approved spending up to $10,000 to conduct an agricultural capability study of non-ALR portions of the city’s approximate 200 acres of airport surplus land near Black Point.
Results from that soil testing are expected by the end of December with final reports being submitted to the city early in the new year, said city manager of economic development Scott Randolph.
According to Randolph’s November 14 report, council’s intention is to establish the soil capability of the surplus lands so areas of equal or higher agricultural lands can be submitted for inclusion in the agricultural land reserve.
“The reason they are interested in the airport reserve lands is so there is a no-net-loss situation of agricultural land,” said Randolph. “There was a desire on the part of council to pursue this, so we facilitated the report.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said that while council does not have a policy on how much land the city will apply to have included versus how much land it will apply to have removed, it is common practice in communities around the province to pursue a two-to-one ratio.
Regardless of soil-testing results, having a better understanding of the quality of land the city owns in its airport surplus will be beneficial, she said.
“Maybe the study comes back and says most of it is pretty sandy soil and it's better for just growing trees,” she added. "If that were the case, then at least we'll know. It won't be this 'what if' anymore.”