A long anticipated and contentious application to amend the Anmore’s Official Community Plan (OCP) is scheduled to arrive before council next month.
Development of the 151 acres of land – dubbed Anmore South – has been hotly contested by many local residents since community engagement began two years ago.
Icona Properties held an open house at Anmore Elementary School on April 15, laying out their plan and intention to submit a formal OCP amendment in May 2023.
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“Anmore has a role to play in a sustainable future for the region,” the Icona Properties proposal stated.
Icona is slated to begin neighbourhood planning next year, which includes land use changes and transportation and service requirements to guide future approvals.
Anmore South is currently named as a special study area in both the current OCP (2014) and the Metro Vancouver 2050 Regional Growth Strategy.
A phased build-out approach is estimated to take 25 years and to include a variety of housing types, such as: duplexes, townhomes, row homes, and six-storey apartments.
Purpose-built rentals, along with affordable and subsidized housing, are also part of that vision.
The current rural designation in Anmore’s OCP would only allow for 86 large (one acre) homes to be built.
The amendment would allow densification. If approved, Anmore South would be developed around a village centre, offering employment and community facilities with a pattern of new streets, according to the plan.
The developer stated the area can accommodate future growth as part of Metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary, enabling it to connect to regional water and sanitary systems.
(Opponents, however, have argued the area falls outside that boundary.)
Some of the site’s challenges, according to the proposal, are the high cost of housing, lack of affordable housing, limited services, unsafe pedestrian routes, and a limited tax base to maintain infrastructure.
Developers would need to pay for the required infrastructure upgrades to service the area, according to the plan.
Several environmental studies and assessments of Anmore South have been conducted.
Protected riparian corridors with fish bearing streams have been identified, along with species at risk such as coastal cutthroat trout and coastal tailed frog.
An OCP amendment would provide the opportunity to protect approximately half the land through dedicated parks, natural areas and greenways, and a connected trail network, according to the proposal.
Fierce opposition has been voiced by local residents since the first phase of the public engagement concluded in April 2021.
Council had proposed changing the area from a rural to urban designation, stating they wanted to lead the process rather than a developer.
The municipality voiced concern over losing voting power to the Metro Vancouver Board after it completed the new growth strategy, preferring to guide the future of the area itself.
Public engagement consisted of a number of workshops, a community survey, virtual open houses, and submitted correspondence.
The majority of respondents were staunchly against the proposal, though the participation rates never exceeded 75 residents.
Major concerns shared across all groups were the loss of both forested areas and community character, along with increased traffic congestion and a lack of alternative routes.
While there was some support for more housing options, no one wanted residential or commercial high rises.
In the months following the engagement period, Anmore Mayor John McEwen said he and council became concerned over the manner of public discourse on the topic.
McEwen released a statement on July 6, stating council had observed an alarming trend, which he described as an “extreme NIMBY – not in my backyard – attitude that seems to be based on elitism.”
“(These attitudes) are not even remotely acceptable,” McEwen said. “I personally first became concerned during the community engagement process regarding Anmore South when I heard negative comments about the ‘type of people’ who would come to our community if we allowed more affordable housing options such as townhomes.”
He listed examples of the specific comments made during the engagement process.
Some residents claimed an influx of new residents “from all walks of life” would cause a crime upsurge and make the community dangerous, according to McEwen, quoting a letter that was signed by 16 people.
He said some residents had even voiced racist comments and that council faced accusations of corruption.
Among the opposition was a community group dubbed the Save Anmore Coalition, which was calling for other Tri-Cities residents to join their cause.
In a July 14 press release, the group stated the designation change would lead to environmental degradation, clogged roads, and pressure on local parks and recreation hotspots like Sasamat and Buntzen lakes.
They alleged council was distorting information, and even threatened “upcoming legal proceedings.”
“Since the beginning of the Council’s urban campaign, there has been no balance, inadequate data and overall failure to communicate to its villagers on what is arguably Anmore’s most essential and life-changing issue in the last 100 years,” the press release stated.
McEwan later responded to the release, stating it contained inaccurate information.
An online petition by the Save Anmore Coalition was created, calling for a referendum on the land use designation issue ahead of the 2022 municipal election.
It collected 902 signatures (400 residents and 502 non-residents) by the time it was presented to council on Feb. 15, 2022.
“The petition results tonight highlight a credibility gap between the council’s vision of Anmore South, and a consensus of residents,” said a Save Anmore Coalition representative.
Icona Properties CEO Greg Moore, who also attended the Feb. 15 meeting, said he wanted to clarify disinformation coming from the group.
He said a land use change would not result in the clearcutting of 150 acres, and that the opposite was true.
Moore said if the rural designation is not changed, 80 percent of the trees could be removed and only five percent of the land would need to be dedicated to the municipality if development occurs.
As much as 10 times the amount of forest and green space would be saved in an urban designation, according to Moore.
“The only way to retain the real character and save the majority of the forest is to move forward with an OCP change,” Moore said. “There is nothing but fear mongering in this petition, misleading the facts … to create angst and anxiety around the community.”
No referendum on the issue was held prior to the municipal election.
McEwen did face a challenge to his mayoral seat from Mario Piamonte, who ran on a platform opposing changing the land use designation.
The incumbent won a landslide victory with 67.8 percent of the vote.
Council prepares for application
Councillors who attended Icona Properties’ open house said it was well attended and the municipality needs to prepare for the amendment’s arrival.
“There are some big changes potentially coming,” said Coun. Paul Weverink at Tuesday’s meeting.
Weverink suggested the need to update the OCP generally, as it may not fully align with council’s current objectives.
Coun. Kim Trowbridge said the city needs to fix its approval process, as some development applications have been stalled.
He added that the tone of the discussion among the open house attendees had changed significantly from past meetings, and feedback from residents was “surprisingly positive.”
“What was also really heartwarming, is that individuals who were not supportive of anything changing were asking really respectful and asking good questions.”