qathet Regional District director speaks out about bill that limits residences on ALR lands

More than one residence requires Agricultural Land Commission approval

A qathet Regional District director wants the province to reexamine legislation that limits agricultural land to one residence per parcel.

Prior to February 22, 2019, additional residences were allowed on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lands without Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) approval.

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At this year’s Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention, delegates discussed and debated a hot topic affecting many rural agricultural communities, said qathet regional district Electoral Area B director Mark Gisborne.

“Previously, a farmer could put an additional dwelling above an existing farm building, or they could use a manufactured home for an immediate family member,” said Gisborne. “There was also no restriction on the number of dwellings permitted for farm help, if considered necessary for the farm. The local government could impose additional regulations if they so choose.”

Gisborne said under Bill 52, this has changed.

Under the new legislation, applications to the ALC, through local government, will be required for additional residences that are necessary for farm use or non-adhering residential use, according to Gisborne.

“This is the case for any size of ALR parcel, five acres or 500 acres,” said Gisborne. “This places a financial burden on both the farmer and the local government. A fee of $1,500 is required just for making an application to the ALC. 

“The ministry has fired back from criticism with ‘farmers and ranchers are allowed multiple residences in the Agricultural Land Reserve with permission of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).’”

Gisborne said, “while this is true, the ALC is not well known for approving applications or working well with local governments, as was shown with the Hemlock Street loop in the City of Powell River.”

The legislation should be clear for farm uses and not create hurdles for small farms, said Gisborne.

At the UBCM, Gisborne spoke in support of a resolution brought forth by East Kootenay Regional District, which requested that the province reconsider some of the changes. In his presentation he said he is a young farmer taking over the operation of his family’s farm. He said a secondary dwelling enables senior farmers to stay on the farm and hand over the torch with succession planning.

Having the outgoing farmer on the land not only retains the experience but provides young farmers like my wife and I affordable home-based child care,” said Gisborne. “I am not alone in my area. Young farmers are impacted by the change.”

Gisborne spoke about the ministry of agriculture’s open house sessions on this issue.

For public engagement, the open house session in Merville required Powell River farmers to pay for ferries and take a full day off at the end of September,” said Gisborne. “Farmers were bringing in their harvest, and thus only two farmers were able to attend from my area. Expecting farmers to travel out of town at the end of September for consultation makes as much sense as asking tax accountants to travel for consultation on the first of April.”

Six open houses were scheduled for farmers of BC’s 28 regional districts, which Gisborne said was inadequate. 

The UBCM resolution resolved that UBCM petition the province to reinstate previous provisions of the legislation, which facilitated the construction of additional dwellings for farm help, manufactured homes for immediate family members, accommodation above an existing farm building or a second single family dwelling, according to Gisborne.

He said the message sent by the UBCM is based on leaving the control of land-use planning in the hands of local governments. He added that a problem in Vancouver is not necessarily a problem in Powell River.

“It is also an administrative burden on local governments, less control and more downloaded responsibility,” said Gisborne. “There are some really good changes coming from this government in the way of agriculture, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s work together and cultivate some amendments.”

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