Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Recent changes to allowed uses within the Agricultural Land Reserve

Last year, the provincial government changed the legislation that protects agricultural land in BC. One of the biggest changes was splitting the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) into two zones.

In Zone 1, which included the South Coast, Vancouver Island, and the Okanagan, the Agricultural Land Commission and its regional panels must preserve agricultural land and work with all levels of government to encourage farm uses on agricultural land.

With land in Zone 2, the rest of the province, in addition to preserving agricultural land for farm uses, the Commissions and its regional panels can also permit uses on agricultural land if there is economic, cultural and social value; it meet regional and community planning objective; or it meets other prescribed considerations.

The introduction of the Zone 2 additional uses created a paradox because those additional uses can only be considered if those uses still result in the preservation of agricultural land for farming. If land within the ALR is not suitable for farming, it really should be excluded from the ALR. Luckily in Metro Vancouver, we are in Zone 1.

When the province changed the legislation last year, they also started a review process to update what uses would be allowed within the ALR that didn’t require the approval of the Commission.

The province recently expanded non-agricultural uses permitted within the ALR, and was considering changing the rules around the subdivision of land within the ALR. The subdivision of farmland can result in fragmentation which reduces the ability of land to be efficiently farmed.

As of June 2015, the following changes were made to uses allowed within the ALR in Zone 1 according to a Metro Vancouver staff report:

  • Allow the production of marihuana in accordance with federal regulations
  • Allow biodiversity conservation, passive recreation, heritage, wildlife and scenery viewing purposes
  • Allow aggregate extraction if the total volume of materials removed is less than 500 cubic metres
  • Change where products sold at a farm shops can be sourced from
  • Change where farm products stored, packed, prepared, or processed can be sourced from
  • Allow breweries, distilleries, or meaderies within the ALR if 50% of the farm products used in the creation of beverages are grown on the farm
  • Allow the selling of alcoholic beverage, other than ones produced on the farm, in a lounge or for special events
  • Allow the leasing of sections of farmland as long as farming is the intended use
  • Allow, in addition to one secondary suite in a single family dwelling, either one manufactured home or single level addition to an existing dwelling

Many people were concerned that the province would further weaken the protection of farmland, but the changes in regulation so far have been reasonable.

More changes could still be in the works around “agri-tourism” which is circularly defined as tourist activity on farmland.

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