Abbotsford industrial deals displacing area’s agri-food sites

Sweet dealing

A local investor is set to acquire the former Brookside Foods Ltd. plant in Abbotsford, which Hershey Co. shuttered last year as it consolidated Brookside’s production at plants in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec, and Robinson, Illinois.

A deal for the plant came together last week, explained Chris Morrison, an executive vice-president with Colliers International. The property was listed for $9 million earlier this year, with food processors a key target buyer. However, a shortage of industrial properties in Abbotsford meant wide-ranging interest.

The successful bidder was a local investor who, when the deal closes, plans to strip the 64,655-square-foot facility and retrofit it for non-food uses. A portion will be leased to others.

The deal occurs as Abbotsford approved a proposal to ask the Agricultural Land Commission to approve the exclusion of 696 acres of farm land on the city’s west side to alleviate its industrial land shortage.

The land commission last year rejected a bid to exclude 22 parcels along Bradner Road under contract to a numbered company controlled by Joe Segal and Ron Emerson, but the city’s new bid has given Segal and Emerson the confidence to close on their purchase.

The deals herald the eastward shift of traditional industrial users into a part of Abbotsford long dominated by agri-food ventures.

Originally established in the late 1970s, Brookside debuted a proprietary process for making fruit chips in 1997 that offered health-conscious manufacturers an alternative to chocolate chips. Business grew and in 2006 it moved to premises amid a cluster of local food processors including Vanderpol Food Group, Vitalus Nutrition Inc. and Golden Valley Foods Ltd. To the south is Berryhill Foods Inc., while a short distance north there are several poultry operations as well as the Mt. Lehman, Singletree and Seaside Pearl wineries.

Housing ambitions

A year ago, Mayor Gregor Robertson and chief housing officer Mukhtar Latif took the podium at 2221 Main Street to announce the gift of four city-owned sites to the city-run Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) for the construction of approximately 390 units of affordable rental housing.

A year later, rezoning of the properties continues; ground is unlikely to break until next year, meaning occupancy won’t occur until 2020.

The facts are worth remembering given the city’s announcement this past May of an additional eight city-owned sites for VAHA to build approximately 1,181 affordable rental units, and the city’s more recent pledge “to enable 72,000 new homes … to provide residents with the housing they need” over the next decade. Of these units, “just under 48,000 of these new homes will be rentals,” including more than 12,000 units of social and supportive housing for lower-income residents.

Given the lengthy approval times for projects, it remains to be seen how quickly the city makes good on its vision. Beedie Living, for example, has proposed a fifth iteration of its project at 105 Keefer Street, a process that has seen it caught between the city’s housing ambitions and pushback from the community. While everyone agrees the site needs to deliver housing, what kind of housing is another question.

VAHA’s announcement a year ago noted that the city had “enabled” (that word again) more than 12,000 units of affordable housing since 2011, or about 2,400 units a year. Given the pushback against high-density developments such as 105 Keefer Street and angst in neighbourhoods around the city over the pace of change, adding 4,800 affordable rental units a year let alone 7,800 units a year overall seems as likely as the city making good on its pledge to eliminate street homelessness by 2015.

Councillors will vote in November to make the housing targets civic policy. The initial test of the policies will be a modest 1,000 rental units in the Cambie corridor.