The current collaborative relationship between the City of Kelowna and the Agriculture Land Commission is due in part to the city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee and in part to the attitude of its staff.
It was that attitude and effort by the commission and city staff that resulted in last week’s removal of 10.5 hectares of designated Agricultural Land Reserve farmland in Glenmore by the ALC for construction of sports fields and ball courts and play areas, notes ALC chairman Richard Bullock.
The eight or so conditions on removal of that land from the ALC were worked on over a period of the last five years, says Terry Barton, the city’s parks and public places manager, and ranged from a fence and buffer zone around the new recreation area to off-site conversion of city-owned land elsewhere in the city to farmland from sports fields and a firehall.
The ALC also wanted to see something developed on that land—at least a first phase—within three years, noted Barton.
With the swearing-in of a new council, many elected on a platform of helping business and development in the city, and the mayor’s announcement this week that there will be a review of all council committees, some have wondered if the AAC will be left in place.
“I have no problem with development, as long as it stays off agricultural land,” says Bullock.
Agriculture is an important part of this community, he adds.
And, he’s a strong proponent for advisory committees to councils and regional district boards.
Kelowna’s committee was put in place by incoming Mayor Walter Gray when he last filled that position, and continued by Mayor Sharon Shepherd when she took office.
“Kudos to him for putting agriculture in its proper place in the community. I hope he will stick with it,” commented Bullock.
He said he has personally given Gray a lot of credit for his attitude toward agriculture in the city.
It’s an attitude that has led to a good working relationship between the ALC and the city, he adds.
Bullock was commenting on some changes to the ALC Act passed last week by the provincial legislature that will strengthen its ability to protect farmland.
One change was separation of the posts of chairman and CEO, both of which were previously held by Bullock. That will provide him with more time to oversee decisions by the regional panels around the province.
A new CEO will be hired early in the new year by the cabinet, which also appointed Bullock.
A five-year moratorium on repeat applications to the ALC is now in place, with the idea that will reduce the paperwork for ALC staff and free up time to support farming.
A temporary lift to the ALC budget of $1.6 million will allow the ALC to fill some vacancies on the six regional panels, including one in the Okanagan. Such appointments are made after a process of interviews and are based on merit, noted Bullock.
It will also allow the ALC to modernize mapping and website information so the ALC can be run in a more-modern manner, he said.
In some instances consultants are being hired, but because the extra money is temporary, no new staff are being brought in.
Passage of the amendments also include a new minister’s bylaw; guidelines for local government to use to help them make decisions about permitting houses and roads to be built on ALR land. The idea is to protect the integrity of the working farm rather than allow big houses to be built on good land in the middle of the farm, and access roads through the farm as well.
“I’m not going to tell municipalities what to do,” emphasized Bullock. Use of the guidelines are up to individual governments.