Increasing need for a new regional transit facility proved more important to Kelowna city council than protecting farmland on Monday afternoon.
Council voted 7-2 in favour of asking the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to allow the city to use a plot of farming property just south of UBC Okanagan for a new regional transit yard. The city purchased the land in 2017 with the intention of using it for transit and the official community plan has had the area earmarked for industrial use since the mid-‘90s.
The land is currently still in the agricultural land reserve but Mayor Colin Basran said industrial use has been discussed with the ALC in the past.
“This is not a surprise to them,” he said. “I would much rather the city have control of this land and do something that’s going to be great for our environment, like building a transit facility on it. Who knows what any number of private industrial entities could have been located on this land?”
The new bus barn would come as a much-needed improvement to the city’s current BC Transit facility on Hardy Road, which city staff said doesn’t have the room to expand to meet local need as the city continues to grow.
While growing transit need was enough to sway most councillors to make the rare vote in favour of nixing agricultural land, it wasn’t enough for all. Councillors Mohini Singh and Charlie Hodge voted in opposition of the motion.
“I philosophically disagree with agricultural land coming out for development,” said Coun. Mohini Singh, mentioning some agrologists she’s spoken with have said the land, with some remediation, would be “high quality agricultural land.”
Juxtaposing Singh’s philosophical opposition Hodge looked at the idea of putting buses on farmland in a much more literal way.
“You can’t eat buses,” said Hodge. “You can try, but they’re not very tasty.”
The city isn’t neglecting the impact of removing agricultural land, however. If the project moves forward $600,000 will be set aside for agricultural initiatives, including an agricultural reclamation fund, an ag-specific planning resource, signage reminding residents of active farmlands and enhanced buffering around the proposed transit facility.
The application will now make its way to the ALC. If approved, it will come back to city council for rezoning and development permits.