Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Protecting the Agricultural Land Reserve, Local Government’s Role, and Cannabis Production Impacts

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), which was introduced in the 1970s, has had a profound impact on our province. It has done a reasonable job of preserving food and ranch land from urban and industrial development. In Metro Vancouver, it has also acted as a defacto urban growth boundary that has limited sprawl.

Map of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver. Source: Metro Vancouver

Over the years, there have been decisions made that have removed productive farmland from being used for agricultural purposes. A classical example was a brief period in the 1980s when golf courses were allowed in the ALR. This was put to an end rather quickly, but many of the golf courses today are a result of that blip. This includes the golf course in Langley City.

In the 2000s, the provincial government was responsible for close to third-quarters of all removal of land from agricultural uses in the South of Fraser, most of which was to accommodate transportation projects.

Even today, we are seeing the conversation of ALR land from food production to cannabis production in communities such as the Township of Langley.

The provincial government launched a review of the Agricultural Land Reserve at the beginning of the year to find ways to strengthen and enhance it; an independent advisory committee was established.

The committee released an interim report at the end of July with several recommendations for immediate action. They also noted what other recommendations will likely be included in the final report.

There are two actions items that require immediate attention according to the committee:

  1. Mitigating the impacts of oil and gas activity in the ALR
  2. Restricting cannabis production in the ALR

The first recommendation is more targeted for northern BC, but cannabis production is impacting farmland in Metro Vancouver.

The committee is recommending that “an immediate moratorium on all non-soil bound cannabis production and facilities in the ALR pending provincial-level analysis of impacts. Further the committee recommended that specific criteria be establish for cannabis production be establish, including the requirement for a permit from the Agriculture Land Commission (ALC).”

I believe that most cannabis production will be best suited on industrial land.

The committee is also evaluating thirteen other recommendations:

  1. Strengthen the Act to prioritize agriculture by better defining the ALR, including the purposes of the ALR, and establishing ‘agriculture-first’ criteria for consideration in all ALC decisions
  2. Increase the autonomy, independence and effectiveness of the ALC by ensuring that merit based Commission appointments are made in consultation with the Chair and by increasing the oversight role of the Chair in the selection of both Commission members and the CEO
  3. Ensure province-wide decision making that is consistent and fair with an ALC governance structure that is flexible, locally-informed, regionally-representative, and puts ‘agriculture-first’
  4. Safeguard agricultural values across the province by reinstating a one-zone ALR decision-making model across B.C.
  5. Strengthen ALC compliance and enforcement tools, and capacity, to better protect the ALR
  6. Protect the ALR from residential speculation by establishing a maximum total floor area for all primary residences in the ALR (e.g. Minister’s Bylaw Standards) and providing local government flexibility to zone below the maximum. Enable new regulations for residential siting, secondary dwellings, and home plate size
  7. End the impact of illegal fill on the agricultural capability of the ALR by redefining and restricting fill throughout the ALR
  8. Address speculation through better land use planning by only considering exclusion of ALR land through a joint local government-ALC land use planning process
  9. Make the ALR application review process more efficient by prescribing acceptable non-farm use and subdivision applications
  10. Improve clarity around the two ALC reconsideration processes
  11. Ensure a province-wide agricultural perspective by removing the ALC’s capacity to delegate subdivision and non-farm use decision-making authority to local governments
  12. Build better planning and land use decisions for agriculture by requiring all local government bylaws that affects the ALR to be endorsed by ALC resolution
  13. Strengthen ALC administration by clarifying and updating the Act and Regulation to improve ALC’s daily operation

Recommendations six and eleven are the most interesting for municipalities in our region as it will place limits on their powers. This is required as local governments have constantly prioritized urban development over the preservation of farmland. I am encouraged that many of the recommendations speak to working in a more collaborative manner with municipalities.

I am looking forward to seeing the final report on how to strengthen and enhance the Agricultural Land Reserve in our province.

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