Aquilini-linked ranch fined $70,000 for storing cranes on farmland

Pitt Meadows council supporting application to Agricultural Land Commission

Storing cranes and non-farm-use equipment on agricultural land contravenes city zoning bylaws. (files)

Storing cranes and non-farm-use equipment on agricultural land contravenes city zoning bylaws. (files)

A numbered company that is part of the Aquilini Investment Group has paid the City of Pitt Meadows $72,600 in fines for storing cranes on farmland. 

However, council is supporting the Aquilini group company Golden Eagle Ranch Inc. in its application to the Agricultural Land Commission, seeking permission to store the cranes on the Pitt Meadows property until the end of the year.

Storing cranes and non-farm-use equipment on agricultural land contravenes city zoning bylaws and ALR land use regulations.

At its April 17 meeting, council voted to forward a non-farm use application from Golden Eagle Ranch Inc. (GERI) to the ALC with a recommendation of support. The application asks for temporary crane storage on the blueberry farm at 14411 Neaves Rd., for a period not to exceed Dec. 31, 2018.

The land is owned by 374907 BC Ltd., a numbred company, listed by the city as part of the Aquilini group.

The issue was before council in March, but a decision was deferred until the company paid more than $40,000 in accumulated daily fines. More fines were added, and the company has now paid $72,600.

At the March 6 council meeting, Becker was critical of the applicant.

“These folks, unfortunately, are one of the poorest corporate citizens that I have seen in the history of Pitt Meadows,” Becker said in the meeting. “I don’t go back 114 years, but certainly in my time they take the blue ribbon for lousy citizenship.

“The habit of the applicant and their associated companies is to rarely ask permission, and only beg forgiveness when they want something from the city,” Becker added.

He scolded the applicant for asking council’s support while being in default.

“I want to see these fines paid. This is unacceptable. What the hell? Pay the fines,” Becker said at the meeting in March.

“We’re not dealing with a mom-and-pop operation that had a bit of a turn-down in the price of blueberries last week.”

In addition to the fines, the applicant will pay an industrial tax rate for the land used for crane storage, which is 3.7 acres on a 40-acre parcel, and will post a bond to cover the cost of removing the cranes by the city, if the company does not remove them, should the application not be approved.

John Negrin, of Golden Eagle Ranch Inc., said Monday that he had no comment about the fines, the increased tax rates, nor the mayor’s criticism of the company.

At the March 6 council meeting, he addressed council in person, and thanked the mayor and staff for working with the

company. He also noted it employs some 500 people throughout the year.

“We are looking to do things right. We are paying the fines, looking to be a responsible member of the community,” Negrin said at the March meeting.

The city began fining the numbered company in April 2017.

The fines stopped in November, when GERI began the process for the non-farm use application.

But council can fine retroactively for six months.

GERI paid fines up until the council meeting on April 24.

The city’s agriculture committee had recommended that the application move forward to the ALC, with fines paid.

“The piece of property the cranes are on right now is concrete and gravel, it’s non-farmable land,” said Coun. Bill Dingwall, who sits on the committee.

“Given that, they are, if not the biggest, one of the biggest farmers in our community. Why wouldn’t we work with them?” Dingwall added.

The construction cranes and related equipment are owned by North America Crane Services, a subsidiary company of the Aquilini Investment Group, which also owns the Vancouver Canucks, and a golf course in Pitt Meadows, in addition to multiple properties.

A letter from Negrin to council said there would be no business activity on the storage site.

The land has been used for storage of farm equipment and maintenance for decades, and that will again be the use once the cranes are removed, said the letter.

If the application is denied by the ALC, the city can again start issuing daily fines.

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