ALC changes to preserve farmland

If you were hoping to re-apply to the Agricultural Land Reserve for exclusion of your property, think again.

If you were hoping to re-apply to the Agricultural Land Reserve for exclusion of your property, or you planned to build your home in the middle of your farm, think again.

New legislation amending the Agricultural Land Commission Act was proposed Monday as a result of last year’s report reviewing the ALC by chairman Richard Bullock, and a report by the auditor-general.

Agriculture Minister Don McRae says the land reserve is here to stay. “We value farmers and the ALC and we’ve backed that up with money and legislation.”.

The commission will receive $1.6 million in the coming year, in addition to its existing $1.92 million budget, including the hiring of a new CEO.

Currently Bullock serves both as CEO and chairman. Adding a separate CEO was one of his recommendations.

He said he was concerned that since the legislation was passed in 1973 creating an agricultural land reserve in B.C., “A lot of people never believed it was a solid piece of legislation.” As a result, he said the commission has had to be more reactive to applications for exclusion, for instance, instead of being proactive about preserving farmland.

He hopes that will now change and the commission’s mandate of protecting land for farming can be carried out more effectively and efficiently.

Increased enforcement of regulations will include the use of staff from other ministries, and possibly, use of bylaw enforcement officers at the civic government level, said McRae. That will augment the two staff the commission currently has, and allow follow-ups as well.

Bullock said he would like to see the ALC begin to communicate with municipalities and regional districts about the reserve, how it impacts their communities, and what they can do to ensure the protection of farmland before it is built upon.

McRae said communities which have a vision for the future can now engage the ALC, but he warned that should not be just for removing small parcels of land.

A minister’s bylaw standard provides local government with a ready-to-use model that would restrict the building of large residences in the centre of ALR lots. It’s intended as a guideline for civic government.

There will be a five-year moratorium on repeat applications for actions such as excluding land from the ALR, to help reduce the number of applications that have to be dealt with by commission staff so they can focus on being proactive.

While there are no specifics yet, the ALC is expected to become more self-sufficient with provision for collecting fees.

A new online tracking system will be put into place to provide enhanced web services.

“By improving the structure and sustainability of the ALC, we’re improving the lives of 20,000 farming families in British Columbia and the $9.6-billion agri-food sector our province supports,” said McRae.

“These initiatives will enhance the commission’s ability to preserve B.C.’s agricultural land and encourage farming,” said Bullock.



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