Giving full consideration to a proposal for a futuristic neighbourhood on the slopes of Sumas Mountain will cost the City of Abbotsford $675,000 and require other planning work to be put on hold, staff say in a report headed to council on Monday.
The developers of the Auguston neighbourhood have floated a concept for a new development called “We Town,” which they say would become a high-tech employment hub and house nearly 30,000 people.
The proposal envisions the construction of multiple high-rises with 15 million square feet of floor space. Auguston Town Developments says nearly everyone who lives on site would also work at We Town. The development would be located just south of Auguston.
Council got its first look at the proposal in October. Eric Vance, an independent consultant hired by the city to evaluate the concept, said the proposal had the potential to stimulate massive amounts of economic growth. But Vance also warned that many of its underlying assumptions – including the live-work ratio, and the consumer appetite for tens of thousands of small apartments – could be overly ambitious. The concept also doesn’t take into account the area’s riparian areas, and its 20-year buildout plan might not be feasible, Vance warned.
The city’s official community plan had envisioned the addition of 15,000 residents in new Sumas Mountain neighbourhoods. Given that the We Town idea would triple that figure, staff asked whether council should include the concept within a neighbourhood plan for the McKee Peak area. Council voted in October to direct city planners to include the We Town concept in the project, but not all were sold on the proposal.
The majority of council said the city needed to pursue the idea, lest it miss-out on a “game-changer.” But Mayor Henry Braun, and Couns. Ross Siemens and Brenda Falk opposed pursuing the idea, with Braun suggesting that it goes against the OCP and is in the wrong place.
A new staff report notes the concept envisions the creation of a second “City Centre,” and would require significant infrastructure and amenity upgrades.
The report shows how much time and money will have to be spent just to fully consider We Town and its implications. The report doesn’t include the cost of actually undertaking the upgrades themselves.
Council will be asked on Monday to approve a $675,000 budget amendment, that would allow the city to hire more consultants and increase the scope of environmental, geotechnical and archaeological studies of the We Town area. Among other things, staff and consultants will need to figure out how We Town would impact the city’s new master plans for its fire and rescue service and its parks, recreation and culture department.
A variety of other projects may face delays, including the creation of a new heritage strategy, zoning bylaw updates, and the AgRefresh work to update the city’s agriculture policies.
The report also warns that if and when council gives final approval to a new neighbourhood plan that includes the We Town concept, more money and time will be needed to update the OCP and various other plans to reflect the various implications of the proposed massive project.
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