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Have your say: Burnaby residents can vote on removal of parkland for green waste facility

The City of Burnaby is moving ahead with a process that will allow residents to send in a vote if they oppose the removal of 21 acres of parkland to be developed into the Green Recycling and Organics facility at Fraser Foreshore Park.

green waste facility

The $182-million fully-enclosed GRO facility would be built on a site that makes up 12% of Fraser Foreshore’s 175-acre dedicated parkland. (City of Burnaby)

The City of Burnaby is moving ahead with a process that will allow residents to send in a vote if they oppose the removal of 21 acres of parkland to be developed into the Green Recycling and Organics (GRO) facility at Fraser Foreshore Park.

On Monday night, council reviewed a report outlining the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) and park dedication removal bylaw for a portion of 4800 Riverbend Dr., which is outlined as the potential GRO facility site.

The $182-million fully-enclosed facility would be built on an area that makes up 12% of Fraser Foreshore’s 175-acre dedicated parkland, and the potential site itself contains eight acres of wetland (4.4 hectares of swamp, 2.5 hectares of forest, and 1.1 hectares of marsh).

The facility would be used to convert organic waste into high-quality soil that could be used by residents, community gardeners, and local farms. According to the city, the facility also has the potential to generate renewable natural gas to heat 5,000 homes per year and process up to 150,000 tonnes of organic waste from Burnaby and the Metro Vancouver region.

But the project hasn’t come without opposition, as some residents have raised concerns due to the environmental impacts of building the facility on dedicated parkland.

However, in order for the construction to move forward, the site’s status as designated parkland would need to be removed, which can only take place through an elector voting process.

Breaking down the AAP Process

An AAP is recommended for the GRO facility project as it “can be used to help local governments understand whether the community views a particular matter as ‘significant’, and if necessary, whether the matter then warrants being taken to an assent vote for broader citizen engagement,” notes the staff report.

According to the report, there are 162,503 eligible voters in Burnaby.

If less than 10% of electors (16,250) object to the proposal, this is considered overall approval and the city could move forward with greenlighting the park dedication removal bylaw. However, if more than 10% of the electorate objects, the project would not move forward on that site.

The wording on the response form will be in opposition to the proposed removal of the park dedication bylaw, meaning only those against the proposed bylaw would submit the form. Those in favour do not need to participate.

An example of potential wording on the AAP voting form. (City of Burnaby)

The forms will be available beginning this week and can be accessed on the city’s website, at the legislative services department at Burnaby City Hall at 8am, and at all four Burnaby Public Library locations at 10am.

The forms must be sent to the legislative services department by mail, in person to the department at Burnaby City Hall during regular business hours, or can be dropped off at the 24-hour elector response form boxes at the entrance of City Hall. Voters should note that those who access the ballot online must print it out and mail it in or deliver it to legislative services at City Hall.

All forms must be returned to the legislative services department before the 4pm deadline on Friday, April 28.

The report states that public communications about the GRO project and the AAP will be available on the city’s online information page.

Is the city doing enough to reach the public?

During Monday’s council meeting, some councillors felt that more awareness bout the AAP process needed to be made by the city.

“My main concern is that the responsibility remains on residents to be informed about what’s happening in order to have a say and that there may be some barriers in accessing the ballots,” stated Coun. Alison Gu. She suggested that the online printing, mailing, and in-person drop-off options may not be ideal for all residents who wish to send in a vote.

She asked if it would be possible to send out a mail-in ballot to each resident registered as an elector or have an option where residents could go online to request a ballot that would get sent to their home. Gu also inquired if there was going to be any additional education for the public about the AAP process.

Nikki Best, director of the city’s legislative services department, said the AAP process itself is outlined by the procedure in legislation.

She added that staff hadn’t explored the option of a mail-out ballot option in the budget, but it could cost between $20,000 to $30,000.

Best clarified that the education piece is not something legislative services would oversee, and it would be up to the GRO team to manage additional marketing around the AAP.

James Lota, general manager of lands and facilities, said the city hasn’t planned to do any education or outreach around the AAP process, other than placing two notices in the Burnaby Now newspaper and the information on the GRO website, but said that option to additional outreach was possible.

“Regardless of how you feel about the project, it’s about the process and making sure that residents have equal access to information and equal access to participation,” said Gu.

“I think that we all believe in that process and with the integrity of the process we can move forward, or not move forward if that is what residents so wish.”

Gu’s BCA colleagues, Couns. Daniel Tetrault and Maita Santiago echoed her sentiments about public engagement.

“I’d hope to see things like potentially in-person town halls or even television town halls or other information sessions where people can potentially learn the issue and… be able to make an informed decision,” stated Tetrault.

Santiago noted that she’s been asked by some residents why the city chose to go with an AAP rather than a referendum, and why the issue wasn’t included in the last election.

Mayor Mike Hurley said that the proposal for GRO simply wasn’t ready in time for the last election, and Best added that AAP is common practice in other municipalities, but not for Burnaby, as it’s the city’s first time executing this process.

‘Adequate information available’

Not everyone on the BCA slate felt that more public outreach was necessary.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said that the AAP process “isn’t something new” and the “public is generally aware of these types of initiatives.”

Dhaliwal said that the website information and the notices planned in the Burnaby Now “will prepare our electorate.”

“And the good thing about the whole thing is that not everyone who is supporting the project has to do anything about this. … People who are opposing are the ones who would have to make an attempt to [send back the forms] and I believe there’s adequate information available…” stated Dhaliwal.

Coun. Pietro Calendino said he was in support of the recommendations outlined in the report.

Council voted to move the motion for the AAP for the removal of the park dedication.

Gu added a second motion, requesting staff to explore the possibility of a ballot request process similar to that of the 2022 municipal election.

Gu’s motion was moved, with opposition from Calendino and Dhaliwal.