There are several posts in Price Tags that have followed the inception and building of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall located on Tsawwassen First Nations Land in Delta,nestled between the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and the Port lands, under the control of the Federal Government. An article written in 2013 by Daniel Wood in the Georgia Straight outlines a conversation with City of Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is also a founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve incepted in 1973. Full disclosure, Harold is a member of a very old farming family that not only tilled these lands, but started up the first seed companies in the province. And that place, Steveston? It’s named after his family.
In that Georgia Straight article, Harold noted that over 400 hectares (which is 988 acres) of Class 1 agricultural land in Delta would be lost to port expansion, and another 100 hectares lost to the residential units being built to the west of the megamall. This does not include the 80 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land sitting below the megamall site.
“That’s the best soil in Canada,” says Steves, incensed by the shortsightedness of corporate capitalism. “You’re looking at the Richmondization of Delta.”
We don’t often think of this, but the Fraser River delta which supports and nourishes Metro Vancouver is similar to the great deltas in the world that provide agriculture to surrounding populations. It is also because of its agricultural status and relatively low land values that it is the most vulnerable to use as industrial or commercial lands. Somehow we don’t value food production and the protection of farmland with a high monetary price.
This area of Delta is also on the great Pacific Flyway used by millions of migratory birds on a route that extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Annually this route is used by birds travelling to food sources, breeding grounds or warmer climates. Boundary Bay and this part of Delta are used by birds for a rest stop on the journey, and has been federally recognized.
But back to Tsawwassen Mills, now a 1.2 million square foot mall built by Ivanhoe Cambridge. With 6,000 parking spaces this will be on of the biggest malls in Canada, with a second 600,000 square foot “more local” shopping centre to the east of it. It is a “drive to” destination. And that is what the developer thinks we will do.
To the west of this development a total of 1,700 housing units are being built, again on Class 1 agricultural land. Half of the new housing will be single family homes; 35 per cent are townhomes, and 15 per cent are apartments. A new road is being constructed connecting this residential development directly with the mall for easy shopping access by car.
Tsawwassen Mills has been having a challenge getting employees to staff the mega mall’s stores. At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.
Tsawwassen Mills mall is now lit up at night. While there is shielded light in the parking lot ostensibly to minimize migratory bird disruption, no such regard has been made for the large illuminating signage visible for kilometers on the south side of the mall, as noted in this letter to the Vancouver Sun. Subsequent to that letter being published, another illuminated sign has appeared.
For a mall that is slated to open on October 5 with 150 retail outlets, 90 businesses are concerned they will not have adequate staffing. There is the supposition that shoppers from across the region will drive here to spend a day shopping instead of going to the United States or shopping online. While some light is shielded to minimize disruption of migratory birds, new commercial signage seems to be exempt from any concern.
We as a region have lost hundreds of acres of Class 1 agricultural land that will never be retrieved. A mega shopping mall perches on the sensitive delta which is also on the floodplain. There is no active transportation or good transit to the mall. It looks like any other mall you have ever seen. Just bigger. With 6,000 parking spaces.
In many ways, we are witnessing a motordom experiment of the ilk that the 1950’s and 1960’s would have dreamed about. It’s too late for the agricultural land, and I have not seen an environmental impact study on the migratory birds. What remains to be seen is how this 20th century rendition of shopping can be a commercial success with the high cost to the future of our agricultural food security and disruption of natural wildlife patterns. Would you spend a day driving your car here and shopping? Is this really a viable use of this richly arable land in this century?
This time I think we went too far. I will end with a photo taken yesterday of the bus stop just outside the mall on Highway 17. That bus stop too is so last century. And it tells me that for Tsawwassen Mills, motordom and the twentieth century way of doing things is all that matters.