The crackdown on mega-mansions on farmland in the Lower Mainland is spilling over to the Cariboo.
As of Sept. 30, the Agricultural Land Commission will require all applications for exclusions from the ALC to come directly from the Cariboo Regional District as the “sole agent,” and not the land-owner as was done previously. Any homes on farmland will also be restricted to 500 sq. m. (5,382 sq. ft.) in size in an effort to protect the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve for agricultural uses.
The move, aimed at curtailing the rampant development of farmland in Metro Vancouver, means the CRD will not only have to make decisions on which projects to put forward but to bear the time and cost of doing it. The situation has confounded CRD directors, who say agricultural land up here isn’t as fertile as that lost at the Coast, while mega-mansions are few and far between.
“It’s tough when you only have one governing body,” said CRD Chair Margo Wagner. “Twenty acres in the Cariboo doesn’t compare to 20 acres in Delta. It’s all geared to the Lower Mainland, but unfortunately, we don’t all fit into the same mould up here.”
Over the past 10 years, the CRD has received 13 ALR-exclusion applications. Of those, 11 were endorsed by the CRD Board, and eight were approved by the ALC.
Al Richmond, director for Lac La Hache-108 Mile, said the move will make it even harder for young farmers to continue working the land. The Cariboo Regional District had lobbied hard for two agricultural zones, which would allow farmers to work the land as well as use it for other agricultural uses but that’s now gone.
“Generally, what you find in the Cariboo is our land is marginal at best,” he said. “We find it strange that you can take out all orchards in the Okanagan and all farms in the Fraser Valley but we have to toe the line here in the Cariboo.”
Nigel Whitehead, CRD manager of planning services, told directors at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday that the ALC was trying to prevent “donut-holes” within the ALR. Along with their legislated considerations, he said, the ALC said it will lean heavily on considering long-range planning policy, such as OCPs, when looking at local government exclusion applications.
Whitehead said the CRD can choose to make exclusion decisions on an ad hoc basis, refuse them altogether or consider them through future Official Community Plan updates in the area. The latter would be the most equitable for communities, Whitehead said, as requests could be assessed at a high level by staff across a given OCP area, rather than only putting in staff time to consider properties where landowners have made an effort to reach out and make a request.
Jim Glassford, Director for West Fraser – Nazko, said he didn’t support one-off requests. “Unless it was poor quality, I wouldn’t be interested in taking it out,” he said. “As we’ve seen in the Lower Mainland it kept creeping onto the farmland and that was as good as you could get down there.”
But Wagner cautioned that directors shouldn’t be too quick to deny a request.
“We need to not restrict the ALC anymore than they are restricting themselves,” she said. “(The ALC) seem very reluctant to do anything even if it’s a rock farm and we can’t grow anything.”