Genstar lands for sale: End of the era of sprawl?


On the morning of March 19/15, large signs advertising the sale of Genstar and Madison’s 1,196 acre “Silverdale Lands” were posted on Clay road, Silverdale avenue, Gunn avenue, and Nelson street, in Mission. It was then announced that Genstar’s Silvermere Island and lake properties had already been sold, and Genstar had made a corporate decision to pull out of the development scene in B.C. altogether.

The sale of these lands signals the end of decades of highly controversial planned urban sprawl, as the entire 3,400 acre Silverdale hillside was ultimately slotted for residential housing development, with Genstar and Madison taking the lead. The development agreement required them to bring services to the area, including water, estimated at over $70 million. Without these services, urban density development would not be possible.

And now that the proponents have left the scene, what will the future be for Silvermere and the Silverdale Lands?

To answer this question we need to understand the values of these lands to the people of Mission and to the larger community.

Nestled between the highly productive Stave River, the Silvercreek wetlands, and the Fraser River, the Silverdale Lands include some of the most endangered fish and wildlife habitat in the Fraser Valley. Both the Stave River and Silvercreek support large populations of wild Pacific salmon, including over a half million Chum salmon, which spawn in the Lower Stave, and other species of salmonoids including Steelhead, Char and endangered Coho. This place, a tourism hotspot, draws scores of anglers to the Lower Stave every year. Silvermere Lake and Silvermere Island, located in the midst of the Lower Stave, are home to 113 animal species, including endangered Western Painted turtles and several other listed species (Red-legged frog, Barn owl, Bald eagle, Double Crested cormorant and Great Blue heron).

Just to the east of the Stave, the forests of Silverdale are also home to numerous endangered and listed species, including but not limited to: Red-legged and Tailed frogs, Western Screech owls, critically endangered Oregon Forest snails, and Band Tailed pigeons. Thriving populations of local wildlife, including several species of owls (e.g., Saw-Whet owls, Northern Pigmy owl), ravens, amphibians, black bear, bobcats and numerous songbirds, are just some of the treasures supported by this green jewel in Mission.

Not surprising, given this incredible biodiversity and abundance, the Silverdale Lands and surrounding area have a rich human heritage, with evidence of First Nation settlement dating back over 10,000 years, making this area one of the oldest known human settlements in Canada. More recent settlement is comprised of mostly rural properties, whose residents rely on the steady, clean water of the Silverdale hillside for their wells. This water, derived from both surface and deeper aquifer sources, and filtered by the local environment, would be at risk from development disturbance.

The decision made in the 1970s, to plan and build a massive residential development in Silverdale and another residential development on Silvermere Island, completely failed to adequately take into account these tremendous environmental, cultural and historical values. As a result, numerous concerns over the years have been raised by local residents about contamination and degradation of their wells. More recently, both federal fisheries scientists and provincial environmental ministry scientists cautioned Mission that “moving forward without designating conservation areas and evaluating potential impacts would likely lead to an ecologically unsustainable development” (DFO Oct.17/08 & MOE Oct.21/08). The plan also failed to realistically account for the massive financial investment that would be necessary to provide services to the development, or for the drain on existing water sources, and subsequent costs of over $300 million for a new water source, to satiate the thirst of twice our current population.

Can we imagine a future for Silvermere and the Silverdale Lands that respects the land and all of its human and nonhuman inhabitants? A vision that does justice to its priceless environmental, cultural, and spiritual heritage? A vision which doesn’t bleed our community coffers dry, and assists with our water conservation and carbon reduction efforts? It is time to begin serious discussions about the potential for a world-class park, establishing conservation areas for endangered species, for ecotourism facilities, a wildlife refuge at Silvermere, and even an outdoor research lab on local species at risk for a new university campus. As we free our minds from assuming past decisions must proceed, and sprawl on the hillside is all we can do, the possibilities are endless. All it takes is a “shift” in our imagination!

There is a purpose for everything. The sale of the Silverdale Lands represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for our community to take a breath, steer our course away from urban sprawl, and listen to the land and all of its inhabitants, past, present, and future.

Tracy Lyster CAUSS

Despite Genstar’s exit from the development scene, CAUSS will continue to monitor and review development activity in the area.  This website will be archived while we focus on our Footprint Press publication.

Privatization of Mission Water Rejected by Citizens

Mission council’s attempt to privatize operation of a new water supply at Stave Lake to facilitate future growth was defeated Monday April 4/11 after CAUSS and other concerned citizens barraged council with numerous concerns and questions.  Speaker after speaker addressed council to oppose the proposal, which would have given an unknown corporation control of the operations for 25 years or even longer.  Mike Gildersleeves pointed out that the costs of water to residents would be tied to the cost of hydro, as BC hydro owns the water rights for the Stave.  This, at a time when hydro rates are skyrocketing means higher water costs for residents.  It was revealed at the meeting that council was preparing to move forward with the proposal even though the business case, outlining the risks and costs to Mission, had not yet been completed for this $300 million dollar project!  Members of CUPE pointed out that private operations of the plant would cost more than $1,000,000 more per/year than public operations.  Others pointed out that an environmental assessment had not been completed on the project despite the importance of the Stave River to wild salmon.

Mission staff admitted that our town does not have the money to pay our share of the project, and therefore was preparing to enter into the P3 deal in order to secure some funding from P3 Canada.   If future development cost charges did not cover the costs of the proposal, the burden would be on Mission and Abbotsford residents.  Was it a coincidence that the proposed water line does not connect with our existing system but takes a turn west to Silverdale?  This would save Silverdale developers millions and force existing residents to subsidize sprawl.

At 10:50, after almost 5 hours of informed and powerful presentations by Mission citizens, council stopped the consultation with people still lined up to speak.   Councilor Horn stated the project could cost $2000 for each Mission home, but voted in favour anyway.  He, Mayor Atebe and Councilor Gidda attempted to argue that their vote to go forward was not an endorsement but merely gave all Mission residents an opportunity to vote on a referendum.  Fortunately, the consultant Delloit and Touche clarified that P3 Canada required a commitment from council to the P3 deal, subject to satisfactory funding from P3 Canada (for up to 25% of the cost) and assent of the electorate.  To their credit, Councilors Stewart, Stevens, Plecas and Scudder heard the concerns being expressed and voted against this commitment.

CAUSS believes that Mission should learn to live within its means rather than forcing growth at any cost.  Mission simply cannot afford the massive infrastructure costs associated with sprawl.  Its time to accept that a sustainable community must live within basic economic and environmental limits, and must ensure that the public interest is not overridden by corporate agendas.  The UN has declared water as a fundamental human right.  Clearly, the people of Mission agree.

Follow-up to Silverdale house of cards

Has the Genstar bailout already begun? Not one of the council who voted in favour was able to answer CAUSS’ questions relating to a late item “escrow” agreement between Mission and Genstar/Madison development corporations Aug 4/09. Was council just playing dumb or was it the real thing?   According to a staff report on that night’s agenda, Council has placed a principal “agricultural use” on the Genstar lands in the upcoming zoning bylaw, despite these lands being designated “urban” March 2/09 when the bylaw was adopted.  Such a designation is argued to be appropriate despite implications of millions in tax revenue lost to the District.  While staff try to argue that Genstar has agreed to reimburse Mission if they achieve farm status (why not just pay the urban taxes directly?), according to Dennis Clark, no actual taxation agreement with the developers exists. How can Mission justify such an unprecedented sweetheart deal with the developers given recent escalations in Mission property taxes (5.8%), talk of a gas tax increase for the District (3%), significant increases in water and sewer costs to its citizens (15%) and recent disclosure that mission only has 1 million of the 3 million needed just to maintain our current road system? Apparently the adage you can’t have your cake and eat it too does not apply to the cozy relationship between the Silverdale developers and Mission.

Is the Silverdale house of cards finally collapsing?

In May/09, CAUSS alerted Mission residents to the fact that the deadline had long passed for signing the 20-year PDA financing agreement between Genstar and District of Mission.  This agreement, necessary for development of Neighbourhood one in Silverdale, requires a no-build covenant be submitted in order to ensure that conservation areas and parklands are protected.  The agreement also specifies how a number of amenities, totaling millions, will be financed. This issue should be of deep concern to weary Mission taxpayers who have recently endured significant increases in property taxes and a potential gas tax increase due to rapid development of our town.  In May, Dennis Clark told the Record that the District “fully expected Genstar to comply in a little while” and “if nothing progresses in about a month, the District may seek some legal advise or have discussions with Council”. Now we are 4 months past the deadline and still no PDA or word from Council.  The failure of the developers to sign is not surprising since they already informed Mission that the project was not viable for them and requested the financial impacts to their company be “softened” in a letter to Mission Sept. 29/08.  Mayor Atebe responded Oct.8/08 that “council will not re-open negotiations on the Phased Development Agreement at this late date” pointing out that it was Genstar’s legal counsel that wrote the agreement in the first place, and the 8 day long public hearing to review the proposal and the PDA, commenced.  However, according to city planner Sharon Fletcher, Mission is currently doing exactly what they said they would not- reopening negotiations with the developers and making amendments to the PDA.  Council must not put taxpayers on the hook to bail out the developers and saddle us with costly urban sprawl.

Inspector’s rubber stamp ignores the facts

The Inspector of Municipalities issued its approval of the 20 year Phased Development Agreement (PDA) between Mission and two development corporations despite glaring problems with the agreement including its legality (inspector-approval).  It is extremely disturbing that the Inspector, responsible for ensuring local governments comply with the Municipal Act, appears to be abdicating his responsibility and putting Mission on the hook for the legality of the PDA.  The Inspector’s approval was listed on Mission Council’s March 2 agenda but surprisingly, this item was not discussed by Council despite the implications the development has for the social, economic and environmental future of our community.  In front of a handful of citizens, Council adopted all three Silverdale Bylaws at the end of the meeting with no discussion. 

CAUSS reviewed the Inspector’s approval and submitted the following letter to the Minister of Community Development March 2/09.

Kevin Krueger 

Minister of Community Development                       

PO Box 9056 STN


Victoria BC

V8W 9E5


Dear Minister Krueger,

I am writing this letter to express our concern with the approval of the proposed 20-year phased development agreement (PDA) for the development of the South West Mission Urban Reserve by Dale Wall, Inspector of Municipalities, Feb 12. 2009.

The development associated with this PDA will have long-standing and irreversible impacts to the local community and area wildlife.  A high degree of cooperation is therefore required with the environmental ministries to ensure that species at risk and fish habitat is protected. We are very concerned that this approval will seriously undermine the position of the provincial Ministry of the Environment and federal Fisheries, both of whom have expressed concerns with the project and have asked for numerous revisions prior to adoption of the bylaws (see dfo.oct17/08 & moe.oct21/08).  Surprisingly, no reference to the ministries was made in the approval letter.  Ministry sign off must take place prior to zoning approval.

We are also very distressed that no mention of concerns raised by the public in the 8-day long public hearing was stated in the approval. There is no evidence in this approval if either the Inspector or the District of Mission considered the concerns of citizens.  Did the Inspector even receive a staff report associated with the public hearing? 

Original criteria to evaluate the PDA presented by the Inspector included the degree of community support for the proposal and review of the public hearing.  However we see no response or acknowledgement in this approval letter of the legitimate community concerns, the environmental concerns, or the overwhelming opposition to the proposal.

In addition to these significant omissions, the approval contained a number of inaccurate statements.

Mr. Wall’s letter states his approval of the PDA was in part based on ensuring adequate public consultation was undertaken and that the development is consistent with the long-term planning done by the municipality.

Public consultation for the PDA involved a single public information meeting which was poorly advertised and therefore poorly attended.  There were no opportunities for public input into the PDA prior to the final public hearing. The Neighbourhood Planning Advisory Committee (NPAC), a committee of citizens appointed by the District of Mission to contribute to the planning of the proposal, never reviewed the PDA.

Mr. Wall stated he reviewed the effort made by the District of Mission (District) to undertake its own legal review and risk assessment so that the District Council was able to make an informed decision. However Mission staff revealed at the public hearing that no risk assessment document, or file exists, and no formal risk assessment had been done.  Therefore is Mr. Wall’s conclusion that no risk assessment for a project of this magnitude is acceptable?

Mr. Wall stated his approval ensured the characteristics of the development warranted the need for a 20-year agreement and that the agreement, including the sequencing of amenities, is based on a reasonable business case.

However, the business case is severely flawed.  Not only have the owners stated that the current PDA is not viable for them (see genstar.sept29/08), but both senior environmental ministries have stated they cannot support the current plan and DFO specifically stated “finalizing the current plan could result in future requests for unacceptable impacts to fish habitat that may not be Authorized by this Department, necessitating future changes to the Plan and/or additional financial and temporal obligations for the District or applicants” (DFO Oct. 17/08).

In summary, the approval for the 20-year time frame for the PDA to be entered into between the District of Mission and Genstar Titleco Limited Corporation and Madison Development Corporation is based on incomplete information and on statements that are not supported by the facts.

The Inspector has been informed by CAUSS legal counsel and is aware that there are also concerns with the legality of this PDA. This opinion was submitted directly to the Inspector, who then indicated that no direct submissions from the public would be accepted. The opinion was nonetheless submitted during the hearing but it is not clear that the points raised were included in the record reviewed by the Inspector for this approval.  The approval letter ends with the caveat that “This approval is with respect to the time frame of the agreement only and is not to be construed as representing provincial approval for the substance of the bylaw and its legality. The District, as the local government, is locally responsible and accountable for entering into this agreement”. We do not understand this statement in conjunction with the responsibilities of the Inspector in this approval process.

In conclusion, we are very disturbed by the apparent lack of provincial accountability for this approval given the significant social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposal. The approval fails to safeguard the public interest and has disregarded not only issues presented by concerned citizens but also has disregarded the serious concerns of the Ministry of Environment and Department of Fisheries.  The public interest warrants a higher level of analysis and transparency than is the case in this process. We expected the approval to be more than a press release from the Inspector. 

The PDA should not have been approved prior to environmental ministry sign off.  We ask that you please review this situation and take immediate corrective action.


 Tracy Lyster, Chair, CAUSS

Cc:     Mayor and Council of Mission, Randy Hawes MLA, Michael Sather MLA, Shane Simpson MLA, Charlie Wyse MLA

CAUSS is currently reviewing all options available to ensure accountability and responsible planning for this environmentally sensitive area at the municipal, provincial and federal level. We will post the Minister’s reply when it is received.


Council approves third reading of Silverdale bylaws

Despite 8 days of public input, most of it opposed to the development plan and 20 year legally binding Phased Development Agreement with Genstar, Mission council rammed through approval of 3rd reading of all 3 Silverdale bylaws Dec. 22/08 with minimal discussion and no changes.   Council’s attempt to justify their disregard of any criticism of the plan was blatant and bizarre.   The mayor and some councillors claimed that public concerns should have been submitted before the hearing implying that the hearing was too late to make changes.  Clearly this claim fails to appreciate the purpose and importance of having a public hearing.  Councillor Stevens attempted to rationalize council’s failure to address residents’ concerns about groundwater with the claim that Genstar will bring city water to the area, ignoring the impacts on area residents who will not receive any city water for decades.  Councillor Stewart stated that the environmental studies were “good enough”, ignoring multiple reports and concerns by provincial and federal environmental ministry scientists who both warn that the current plan poses unacceptable risks to the fish and wildlife of the area, some of which are endangered. The mayor shocked many with the statement that acreages are not wanted in Mission confirming that current rural residents are in for hard times. Planning for Silverdale, once touted by council as innovative and progressive, is now being described by council as “good enough”, negating any opportunity to address issues revealed at the public hearing proactively.   Instead, a multitude of costly problems arising from council’s reckless disregard for the public interest and its willingness to accept good enough sprawl for environmentally sensitive Silverdale, will no doubt be the final legacy of a tainted process directed by biased decision makers.

The Siverdale sham continues Dec. 22/08

A late item presented at Mission Council meeting Dec. 15/08 suggests Mission’s Director of Corporate Administration, Dennis Clark does not think much of 8 days of public input into the Silverdale bylaws.  Mr. Clark’s memo lays out a schedule for proceeding with approval of the Genstar phase one development beginning Dec. 22 at which time council will accept the minutes of the public hearing and proceed to 3rd reading of the proposal. The memo states, if council passes third reading, the proposal will be sent for external approvals including the Inspector of Municipalities on Dec. 23. The Inspector’s approval is needed to pass the 20 year legally binding phased development agreement (PDA) between Mission and Genstar/Madison.  Once the Inspector approves the PDA, Mr. Clark advises that council may proceed to adoption of the plan and the PDA.  What is missing in this memo is any mention of what to do if council DOES NOT pass third reading, what to do if council requests any additional information or CHANGES  to the plan on the basis of public input, or what to do if the Inspector does not approve the PDA.  Perhaps Mr. Clark has already decided for council and the Inspector that 8 days of public input from concerned citizens is irrelevant.  Perhaps Mr. Clark wishes to give Genstar an early Christmas gift.

Silverdale Public Hearings end Dec.10/08

The Silverdale public hearings ended at about midnight Dec.10/08 after Mayor Atebe struck several names off the speaker’s list claiming that because these individuals had not used their full 12 minutes on a previous presentation, they were not permitted to make another presentation.  He then announced that the hearing would continue until the few remaining names were exhausted.
There will be no more opportunity to submit information to council before they make their decision although strangely enough, contacting individual councillors is considered OK.
CAUSS would like to congratulate and thank all those who spoke at and attended the hearings.  This was the only opportunity the public had to express and document the public perspective, and it was clear that the issues revealed by these presentations were very serious and important.  The public has revealed serious gaps in the plan and in the PDA.  Despite extensive marketing of the development as “environmentally responsible”,  federal Fisheries and provincial Ministry of Environment scientists do not support the plan or the process.  The stream setbacks proposed for this highly sensitive ecosystem are the minimum allowed under current legislation and do little to protect the habitat needs of non-aquatic endangered species.   Council admitted the 20 year legally binding Phased Development Agreement was drafted for the benefit of Genstar and the amenities included in the agreement are of little or no benefit to the rest of Mission. 
Some speakers were clearly harassed and censored by the Mayor and Councillor Stevens, who appeared to be spending much of her time listening to tapes of past presentations, rather than the speakers in front of her, and then interrupted speakers with accusations that they were repeating themselves. Many speakers stated they felt attacked or intimidated. This sad state of affairs does not diminish in any way the importance of what was said and does not negate the need for the public interest to be protected.
It is now up to council to at least appear to deliberate, and act on the publics’ concerns.  Given Genstar’s recent position that they will not start for at least 2 years due to the economic downturn, there really is no excuse for council to ignore citizen’s concerns.  
CAUSS recommends that all Silverdale residents arrange to have their wells tested as soon as possible, and keep records of their wells’ water quality and quantity.  

Silverdale Public Hearings Resume Tuesday Dec. 9/08


The Silverdale Public hearings resume Tuesday Dec. 9, 6:30 at the Best Western.  No doubt, council is expecting a poor turnout due to the time of year and disappointing election results.  Despite the election, nothing has changed.  The plan fails to satisfy both provincial and federal ministry scientists (see dfo_oct_17_08 & moe_oct_21_08) and the financing is uncertain given Genstar’s statement that the current PDA is not viable for them (see genstar_sept29_08 ). 
The problem with this process is that the public interest has been completely left out of planning.  The Neighbourhood Planning Advisory Committee (NPAC), which should have been representing the public, included the proponents and a number of people with a vested interest in the development.  CAUSS attended a meeting where NPAC openly admitted that they did not represent the public and public comments, submitted during the various open houses, were barely considered.
Because the public have been left out, the Public Hearing has become a critical forum for expressing and documenting public concerns. So far, the hearings have revealed the negligence of Mission in not having its own project manager, not conducting any risk assessment whatsoever, not addressing resident concerns about ground water contamination,  not including seniors housing or affordable housing options, worsening the resident:employment ratio in our community (so even more people have to commute out of mission to work than before), risking our air quality, etc. etc. etc.
Genstar recently told Mission that they have no intention of starting for at least 2 years due to current market conditions (pg 12. Nov.24/08 DOM Council agenda).  Why then is there such a rush to approve this plan and lock us in for 20 years, before the public and ministry concerns are addressed?
People need to attend the Public Hearing and continue to present the public concerns as well as support citizens in making their presentations. 

Voter Turn out Disappointing

The make-up of Mission’s new council was determined by only 5553 people, or less than 25% of the eligible electorate on the municipal election Nov. 15/08.  We were pleased to see over 1100 supporters for causs members Kevin O’Beirne and Jeanette Smith, but unfortunately this was not  enough to reach the 2400+ votes needed to win.   There is a serious lapse of citizen engagement when over 75% of the electorate do not feel adequately informed to cast their ballot.  We hope that the new council acts to reach out to the community when the Silverdale Public hearings resume Dec. 9/08.