Kelowna council has little issue with plan to pave hay field for car lot

Plans to pave an agricultural property to put up a new car lot won the support of even the most farm-loving Kelowna city councillors Monday afternoon.

"We don't like to see our agricultural land base eroded, but I think this community pulls its weight with the Agricultural Land Reserve," said Mayor Walter Gray, before council unanimously supported the proposal to put a dealership on the west side of Highway 97, north of Stremel Road.

Around 43 per cent of Kelowna's land base is ALR, Gray said, and that percentage hasn't changed  in 25 years.

All in all, he estimated the stewards of local land have served the city well, but with the proposal at hand, the pros outweigh the cons.

Councillors learned from developer Keith Funk that the pending car dealership—which will also have to win over the Agricultural Land Commission and the public before it's built— is in an area that was primarily farm land, but, over the years, has had a less-than-ideal yield due to a number of challenges—both geographical and human.

That said, ALR needs won't be completely denied if the project gets greenlighted.

"We're trying to offer a winning outcome," said Funk, noting they were offering measure that would allow agriculture and outdoor lovers to benefit.

The developer is proposing to exclude 3.3 hectares of the 6.61 hectare lot, to construct the dealership, but the remaining portion will remain in the ALR and be used for a public park and community garden.

It's also proposed that the topsoil, which is coveted within the farming community, would be distributed to ag land in need.

"The net gain to agriculture is about 100 acres," Funk estimated, adding later that a Glenmore family farm has already expressed interest in buying the topsoil.

That, and the fact the land is in a very industrial area won over Coun. Andre Blanleil.

"My theory is that this land is between two major highways (the highway and the north okanagan connector), a train track system and a major wetland and creek area," he said. "I've never seen this as a great area to be farming… I think this makes sense."

Coun. Robert Hobson had a more difficult time throwing his support behind the project, although he did, ultimately.

"For me this is a bit of a cleft stick. Two things (I like) are happening, more taxes and more park," he said.

The negative, however,  is that the proposed lot is on high capability ag land.

"It's class two, which we don't have a lot of within the city," he said.

But, consensus was that  it was a good trade-off.

Council's comments will be submitted to the Agricultural Land Commission when it's their turn to deal with the project.

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