Changes made to Chilliwack’s ‘pro-development culture’

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said changes have been made at City Hall to avoid the issues that drew criticism from a Supreme Court Justice.

Things have changed at Chilliwack City Hall since a planning director made some improper land-use decisions that landed him before a B.C. Supreme Court Justice last month.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said changes have been made so that a “pro-development culture” at City Hall, criticized by Madame Justice Miriam Maisonville in sentencing former planning director Grant Sanborn, is no longer present — or desired.

“We balance all the needs of our community, business, homes and farms,” Gaetz said.

The City’s planning director and approving officer are no longer the same person, she added, which allowed Sanborn to approve a questionable housing subdivision using farmland without a review by the Agricultural Land Commission.

And the pro-development culture has been replaced by a culture of openness, the mayor said, which encourages city staff to speak out when they see wrong-doing.

Justice Maisonville said during sentencing that the culture that had compelled city staff to bend rules in favour of development had “failed the public interest.”

But Chilliwack MLA John Les, who was mayor at the time and a partner in the subdivision improperly approved by Sanborn, said he made no apologies for his pro-development attitude.

“I haven’t seen (Maisonville’s) comments, but if somebody wants to criticize me for being pro-development — go ahead,” he said. “That is a criticism I will accept with honour.”

He said developments in Chilliwack during his time as mayor helped pay for road improvements and other infrastructure needed by the City.

“People around the province still hold Chilliwack up as an example of economic growth and progress,” he said.

“Regardless of what others might say, I’m quite unapologetic as to having adopted a pro-growth attitude both in my time on City council, and my 10 years as MLA,” he said.

Gaetz, who was a city councillor during Les’s time as mayor, pointed out that local economic conditions were very different back then as the military base had closed and there was a land squeeze for housing and commercial development.

“The base had closed and (also) two food processing plants,” she said. “Chilliwack was lagging behind in development.”

And that made for a very different attitude toward the farmland that surrounded the city and choked off growth, she said.

Les had “started a war” with the ALC, Gaetz said, which damaged the City’s relationship with the provincial body charged with the protection of farmland.

“It was intense,” Gaetz recalled.

Now there is “pride in being known as the food basket of B.C.,” she said, and the City aggressively promotes agriculture through its tourism and marketing arms.

The City also has a cooperative relationship with the ALC now, she added, and city staff discuss proposed boundary adjustments of farmlands with the ALC.

Sanborn was sentenced to six months probation for failing to enforce provincial regulations, non-criminal offences that will not result in a criminal record.