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Mission residents concerned about Genstar development plan

Vancouver is not the only B.C. municipality being scrutinized for its dealings with developers. In Mission, the district council has also become caught in developer controversy.

Genstar and Madison Development corporations have proposed a plan that would see the urbanization of Silverdale, a rural community in southwest Mission. The plan could potentially double Mission's population within the next 20 years.

The proposal includes plans for new residential, commercial, and school zones. It calls for roadway expansions, plus municipal water and sewage hook-ups. (Residents of the pastoral community presently draw water from their own wells.)

While the plan could be a financial boon to Mission, opponents have warned that the development threatens the ecological and economic security of the area.

Officials from the provincial Ministry of the Environment and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans have yet to issue environmental certificates for the project. Letters sent from the agencies state that the Silverdale development poses a potential threat to the fish and wildlife in the area, and could not be supported.

Some residents have expressed outrage at the council’s intention to sign a 20-year contract with Genstar and Madison. The contract allows the municipality to grant irreversible zoning rights to developers in exchange for amenities, such as parks and trails. If instituted, the agreement would be the first of its kind in B.C.

Dr. Tracy Lyster, a local resident and spokesperson for the Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Society, said the contract would "guarantee zoning to Genstar for 20 years regardless of what six or seven future councils deemed to be in our best interest from an environmental or economic point of view. That's not democratic."

Mission council recently held a public hearing on the development and potential 20-year contract. Over 200 speakers registered to present their views.

One speaker -- Chris Ryan, a former government project manager -- asked if council had performed a risk analysis of potential threats that the development could pose to Mission taxpayers. The council said that no independent risk assessment had been performed, nor did it intend to hire its own project manager.

In 2005, a Mission leisure centre development had almost $8 million in cost overruns. A project post-mortem conducted by independent consultants advised that a project manager could have prevented the overspending. One consultant recommended that the council hire a project manager for any future projects over $10 million.

"They've learned nothing from that," Lyster said. "Here we are with a project hundreds of times bigger than the leisure center, and they still don't think we need a project manager."

In Vancouver, city council recently authorized $450,000 to hire a project manager to oversee the Olympic Village construction. The Olympic project currently has over $60 million in cost overruns.

Back in Mission, the Silverdale hearing was scheduled to last one session. Council recessed the hearing after six days of presentations, with dozens of speakers remaining. The hearing will not resume until after the upcoming election.

Calls made by The Tyee to the mayor’s office were not returned.

Sean Casey reports for The Hook.

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