Growth Continues For Abbotsford’s 25th Anniversary

By Tina Costanza

The City of Abbotsford, British Columbia, has a lot to celebrate for its 25th anniversary this year.

In the quarter of a century since the amalgamation of the districts of Matsqui and Abbotsford to form the City of Abbotsford, the latter has experienced huge growth.

“We’re not a little village anymore,” says Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, who was four years old when he moved to the area with his parents from south Ukraine. “As I’m looking out my window at City Hall, I see everything around me that would have been farms. Now it’s a hustling, bustling city of 152,000 people.”

Braun attributes the record growth of the last three to four years to a new official community plan the city adopted in 2016.

“The record growth is the result of that plan because there’s certainty, predictability and consistency,” says Braun. “So when any developer comes in they’re all playing by the same rules because they know what the rules are.”

This growth follows the Conference Board of Canada recognizing the city in 2015 as a “community with one of the fastest-growing economies in the country.”

A constant that has been fuelling Abbotsford’s economy is agriculture. Eighty per cent of city lands are protected for agricultural use, underscoring Abbotsford as the largest agriculture-producing jurisdiction in all of Canada.

The city’s farm gate receipts in the last census, in 2016, were $852 million, says Braun. “That levels out the humps and valleys during economic downturns, because people have to eat. We’re producing roughly half of the poultry, eggs and milk that British Columbia consumes.”

Poultry and dairy aside, the city has been known as the raspberry capital of Canada.

“Now we’re the blueberry capital, because there’s been a switch over from raspberries to blueberries,” Braun explains. “We still have raspberries, but not as much as we did when I was 14 years old, picking them during the summer.”

Notably, agriculture is one of the sectors that has been least affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the sector continues to evolve, Abbotsford is experiencing new opportunities in agriculture technology and innovation, driving more economic opportunity for the region.

Other important industries in Abbotsford are transportation, advanced manufacturing and aerospace and aviation.

Abbotsford Law Courts Project

In terms of development, a new $150-million courthouse in the City Centre Civic Precinct is estimated to have created more than 1,000 jobs during the course of construction, which began in mid-2018. The building is nearly complete and will be open and operating in 2021. It will house 14 courtrooms, including three Supreme Court courtrooms, eight provincial court courtrooms and three judicial conference rooms.

The facility’s plans also include justice programs, such as Crown counsel, community corrections, and a Justice Access Centre, as well as a parkade to supplement parking requirements for the City of Abbotsford.

“It’s a beautiful building,” says Braun of the four-storey structure. “I think they’re going to transition over, or start doing mock trials and things like that in September, to make sure all the equipment is working.”

The contract for the project was awarded in early 2018 to Plenary PCL Justice, a team that includes Plenary Group (Canada) Ltd., acting as project co-lead and equity provider; PCL Investment Canada Inc. as equity provider; PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. as design-builder; WZMH Architects as the prime architect; Smith + Andersen as IMIT consultant; and Johnson Controls Canada LP as service provider.

The B.C. government contributed $152.2 million in capital costs to the project, while the City of Abbotsford contributed $5.7 million in the form of a land-leasing arrangement with the province.

A great place to do business

In 2017, the NAIOP Awards for Municipal Excellence named Abbotsford the most Business Friendly municipality.
“Abbotsford is unique in that it is very strategically positioned within the Lower Mainland, and I would sometimes say the most strategically positioned,” says Braun. “We’re on the border with the U.S. We have three railroads coming through here, and Highway 1 cuts through our city.”

The city is also home to the Abbotsford Regional Hospital — which is the city’s largest employer — the University of the Fraser Valley, an international airport that surpassed the 1-million passenger mark last year, and the 18-hole Ledgeview Golf Club, home to PGA Tour players Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin.

Braun also mentions the diversity of the city as one of the things that makes Abbotsford a great place in which to not only establish a business but also do business. The city is the third most ethnically diverse community in Canada, following Toronto and Vancouver respectively, according to Statistics Canada. The south Asian population makes up about one-third of Abbotsford.

“We have an entrepreneurial spirit that is second to none,” says Braun. “You name the business, it is here and thriving. We don’t have huge tax rates — our financial houses are in order.”

Abbotsford received, in 2015, the Open for Business Award from the Small Business Roundtable, which recognized the city for taking initiatives to reduce the cost and complexity of doing business, and in 2019 the city gained recognition internationally as one of the Intelligent Community Forum’s Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world.

Given its assets, the challenge that Abbotsford faces is to leverage them for growth.

“Our No. 1 challenge would be the need for more industrial land,” says Braun. “We need the widening of Highway 1 from Langley to Abbotsford, and we are in discussion with the province about that, and have been for a couple of years. I expect to hear something in the not-too-distant future.”

Establishing a defined city centre is also on Abbotsford’s to-do list, since the amalgamation of municipalities resulted in several “city centres.”

“We don’t really have a city centre,” says Braun. “If you ask people ‘Where is the centre of Abbotsford?,’ you’ll get three different answers.”

So the city launched a four-stage planning process to create the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan (CCNP). Abbotsford has several historic centres, but no identifiable core. The CCNP will develop a new vision for a more populated, attractive, and walkable neighbourhood at the heart of its urban area, the city said in a statement.

“With its close proximity to Mill Lake and its strong employment base, the city centre has the foundation and the potential to become a dynamic and complete neighbourhood. By crafting clearer and stronger land-use designations, design guidelines, and policies, the CCNP can help encourage development in Abbotsford’s core.”

Road expansions, park improvements and housing projects — resulting from city council’s adoption of an affordable housing strategy — are some of the other projects the city has in the works, and as it heads into its next 25 years, its plan is to remain the hub of the Fraser Valley.
“It’s a great community,” says Braun. “That’s why I’ve lived here for 65 years.”