Skip to content

Ignore advisory committee's advice: Protestor

Carol Day's bid to discredit volunteers' approval of Buddhist temple's expansion plans is shot down by chair, city

A protestor campaigning against a Buddhist temple’s massive expansion plans is attempting to discredit a Richmond City Hall volunteer committee.

However, Carol Day’s move to cast doubt on the agricultural advisory committee’s approval of Lingyen Mountain Temple’s plan — exchanging farmland off No. 5 Road as part of a proposed expansion — has been shot down by the committee’s chair and the City of Richmond.

The agricultural advisory committee (AAC) — mainly made up of volunteers from the agricultural community — endorsed the temple’s plan last fall.

However, Day, a local resident who’s led a 10-year protest against the temple’s plans, has questioned the endorsement because the committee’s chair, farmer Bill Zylmans, currently rents land from the temple.

Zylmans, who owns W&A Farms and is one of the city’s most well-known farmers, took part in the committee discussion on the expansion and, ultimately, voted in support of the farmland exchange.

Day, though, believes Zylmans should never have taken part in the debate or the vote and says his involvement is a blatant conflict of interest.

“I was at the meeting itself to give a presentation and I decided to stay to listen to the debate,” said Day, a former school trustee who’s run unsuccessfully for both city council and MLA.

“(Zylmans) talked about the land in question and talked openly about leasing the land, despite chairing the meeting. He made the motion to have the land swap approved.

“I couldn’t believe this, I was in absolute awe. I recall the likes of (councillors) Derek Dang and Ken Johnston leaving city council meetings due to potential conflicts of interest, so I find this unacceptable.”

Decisions taken by any of the city’s 20 advisory committees — most made up of volunteers — are treated by city staff and city council as advice only and are not binding.

When the News contacted Zylmans, he explained that he declared his interests with the temple to the committee, in full view of city staff, and no one seemed to have a problem.

Zylmans added that he actually stands to lose out on the temple’s expansion plan, which would see Kwantlen Polytechnic University farming the 10 acres he currently rents for hay production.

“It’s a year-to-year lease and I was maybe going to plow it and put some strawberries in there,” said Zylmans.

“The status quo would be more beneficial to me, so to suggest something untoward is going on is ridiculous.

“I’m actually on this committee because of my experience and to lend my agricultural knowledge to get the best use out of farmland in the city. There’s no one else at that table with as much knowledge on how to deal with this land.”

If the advisory committees were to go by “conflict of interest” rules, Zylmans said he “wouldn’t be involved in any discussion, as land that I farm is almost always close to whatever is being discussed.”

Elected city councillors are subject to strict conflict of interest regulations.

“Advisory committees have no actual decision-making authority,” explained city spokesperson Ted Townsend.

“They exist only to provide advice and/or non-binding recommendations to council.

“In most cases, that advice does not go directly to council, but is reviewed by staff and integrated as part of staff reports to council.”

Regardless, added Townsend, “it is ultimately up to council to determine how much weight, if any, is placed on their advice, as they do with input received from all sources.”

Blaire Chisholm, an associate with land developers Brook Pooni — who are representing the temple during its proposed expansion — said they met last week with Kwantlen with a view to drafting a letter of intent to allow them to farm the agricultural land to the south of the temple.

“The drainage on the land is going to be improved and it’s going to move up two classes in agricultural terms,” said Chisholm.

The temple has been trying for years to expand east, deep into the rear of its property, most of which is on agricultural land. The Agricultural Land Commission has agreed to allow the temple to build on agricultural land if it places the land it owns to the south into the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The temple’s latest bid is expected to go before a city council planning committee this month or next.