A few weeks ago we mentioned that the Town’s plan for an “innovation hub” south of Rupert Road was to be discussed by Town Council at an open Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on September 22 — Ready for QB’s rural innovation hub??
The one-hour meeting shed little light on any of the questions we have had, including: What are the specific goals the Town is wanting to achieve? Who wants to set up shop here? What number of jobs might this result in? What ROE (return on equity) on the land asset might be expected, etc.?
John Wood, a frequent commentor at Council meetings and Eaglecrest Residents’ Association president, opined that “there is a critical need for light-industrial land,” but he provided no evidence of the demand for same.
Information such as up-to-date vacancy rates for light industrial space in the Region would also have been useful to have had on hand for this meeting. We also aren’t any closer to understanding what exactly differentiates “light” industry from “heavy” industry, a critical factor in making a decision that has the potential to reshape our Town’s look, feel and future evolution.
In the absence of information from the Town staff, we would suggest that “light” industrial activity means you can’t hear it, you can’t smell it, and it does not contaminate the soil, water or air around it.
The Chamber of Commerce’s Kim Burden expressed support for the (decades old) idea of value-added manufacturing of wood products. For the past few years, “mass timber” has been in vogue — think plywood panels on steroids, supported by laminated timber posts, beams and trusses. Burden suggested it’s a better use of trees than exporting whole logs. We agree — but where was the Chamber of Commerce 18 months ago when BC’s independent value-add wood processors were campaigning against Mosaic’s attempts to bypass raw log export regulations, thus denying wood supply to local processors?
Unfortunately, at present there is a complete absence of any attempt at a pro forma business case for industrial development on the 40-acre site.
Near the end of the September COW meeting, Councillor Teunis Westbroek asked a basic but important question: How much tax revenue could we expect from the area allowed for light industrial? We could only shake our heads in disbelief as CAO Daniel Sailland replied: “Excellent question. I don’t have the answer right now.” Not even a guess.
Council dissension surfaces
For the October 27, 2021 Council meeting, Town staff had added a report to the draft Agenda introducing a zoning bylaw amendment that would permit light industrial use on a portion of the proposed rural innovation hub, and asking that it be given first reading.
Noting their previous motion – adopted at the October 6, 2021 Council meeting – that the “comments received at the September 22, 2021 Committee of the Whole meeting be referred to an upcoming in camera meeting of Council for further deliberation,” Councillor Westbroek asked that the Innovation Hub topic be removed from the October 27th agenda. It seems that they had not yet had the in camera discussion.
There appear to be some contentious and as yet undisclosed schemes afoot on this item. Westbroek’s motion met ferocious pushback from Councillor Scott Harrison on weak procedural grounds, but the Motion did pass. The zoning amendment did not receive first reading on October 27. This dust-up can be observed at the very beginning of the video recording of the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Town has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) – better described as a RFEI (request for expressions of interest) – an open-ended invitation to investors to submit their ideas. It will be interesting to see the responses — if we are allowed to.
Many light industrial strata developments have been springing up on the coast lately, several of them on parcels of less than 10 acres. Most are near larger urban centres, but the sale earlier this year of an 8.5-acre brownfield light industrial parcel in the semi-urban District of Squamish for $20 million caught our attention. Garry Fawley, CEO for the buyer Denciti Development Corp., was quoted as planning “to develop the site with industrial space serving local manufacturing, technology, cleantech, and food processing companies.”
Hmmm, has anyone at Town Hall called this guy lately?