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Richmond bus company asked to leave church property

As Richmond Alliance Church works with the ALC on compliance issues, Academia has become 'collateral damage,' says church's pastor
Bill O'Brien, owner of Academia Bus Company, is looking for a new space for his school buses.

A complicated web of bylaws, provincial laws and a forgotten agreement has created a chain of events at a Richmond church, and one piece of “collateral damage” is a private bus company that now needs to find a new home.

Academia Bus Company has until Sunday to remove its fleet of buses from the back end of the Richmond Alliance Church as church leaders try to bring a private school, Noah’s Ark, operating there into compliance with the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) – something a 1992 agreement prohibited.

Richmond Alliance Church is located in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) but the church and its paved parking lot take up the vast majority of the 2.5-acre property on No. 3 Road just south of Steveston Highway.

Academia Bus Company has been storing its school buses for 15 years at the back end of the property on a gravel field.

Their operations consist largely of field trips for schools around the Lower Mainland, a business model devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, owner/operator Bill O’Brien is pleading for more time, saying the cost of storing buses in permitted areas is cost-prohibitive.

“We’re trying to comply, but we need more time,” O’Brien told the Richmond News.

He has already sold three buses, scrapped four and only has two on the road.

O’Brien said he wants enough time to rebuild the company as the economy opens up – and field trips restart – and then he plans to sell it.

School application brings zoning issue to forefront

The church is in violation of a 1992 expansion agreement with the ALC, which specifically stated a school is not allowed to operate in the church.

This was brought to the attention of the school and church in 2018 by the ALC and they have been working to rectify the situation since then.

So, in the process of bringing the school into compliance – something Richmond city council recently supported – the city noticed the bus company was storing its buses at the back end of the property and informed the church this is not allowed in “assembly” zoning.

The current pastor, Ron Redekop, said the church “gave our word” to the city that the bus company would be gone as part of the application to bring the school into compliance.

“The bus company is a bit of collateral damage here as we were going through the process on (Noah’s Ark),” Redekop said.

1992 agreement lost in the shuffle

Noah’s Ark was formed in 2007 in an unfinished section of the church, and, in fact, the city, which then allowed schools in assembly zones, approved all the building permits.

Redekop said that no one thought to go back to the original 1992 agreement with the ALC when the school was formed.

The leadership had changed in the church and no one remembered the restriction on uses.

“None of this is underhanded or ignoring proper protocol, it’s just that things got missed,” Redekop said.

“How that happened, I wasn’t here, I can imagine volunteers serving in church leadership wouldn’t have thought to go back 15 years (to the 1992 agreement) if the city gives their approval for it,” he added.

Redekop added the church’s philosophy is to help out where they can, so if the space can be used for daycare or a school that the community benefits from, that’s what they want to do.

“Let’s at least use it and make this worthwhile,” he said.