Victoria – Provincial Legislation introduced on Monday is to make it clear that land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is for farming and ranching in British Columbia, not for dumping construction waste or building mega-mansions.
If passed, Bill 52, the agricultural land commission amendment act, 2018, will strengthen protections for B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve. The proposed legislation makes three key changes:
- Restoring the integrity of the ALR by reinstating one zone for all ALR land in B.C., making it clear that all land in the ALR benefits from the same strong protections.
- Addressing mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR by limiting new house sizes to less than 500 square metres [about 5,400 square feet], except through application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) in cases where it would support farming; and requiring an ALC approval of any additional residences in the ALR to curb non-farm development.
- Cracking down on the dumping of construction debris, toxic waste and other fill in the ALR that can irreparably damage arable soil on valuable farmland, through increased penalties.
The legislative changes will help stop damaging practices that contaminate farmland and make farms unaffordable for new farmers, and threaten the short-term and long-term viability of the ALR. They are designed to protect the province’s farmland so British Columbians can access locally grown food, and communities and local economies can prosper through farming, ranching and agriculture businesses, such as B.C.’s growing food-processing sector.
The legislation in particular:
- Implements a maximum house size in the ALR to address the significant rise in mega-homes and land speculation and requires the ALC’s approval of any additional residence in the ALR to curb non-farm development.
- Implements clear rules to better regulate the placement of fill such as construction and demolition waste from being dumped in the ALR to prevent the degradation of prime agricultural soil.
- Eliminates the two zones and additional criteria for Zone 2 to make it clear that there is a consistent decision-making approach throughout the province that makes agriculture the first priority on the ALR.
- Adds to the offence provisions of the act to enhance the ALC’s ability to take compliance and enforcement action when required.
One zone in the ALR
- The return to one zone throughout the ALR will make it clear that all land in the reserve is protected equally. The ALR was split into two zones in 2014 with different processes and criteria, depending on which zone the land is in.
- There are over two million hectares of the most easily farmed soil classes (classes 1-4) for agricultural land in Zone 2, and only 350,000 hectares of class 1-4 soil in Zone 1.
- The two-zone approach ignored this fact and the value of the other soil classes, which are critical for some types of farming.
- It is important that the Province protects all areas of the ALR equally, with one set of decision-making criteria that has the primary purpose of preserving the ALR and encouraging farming and ranching in B.C.
- British Columbians support this approach. The minister’s independent advisory committee heard strong support throughout the province for the elimination of the two-zone system and reinstating a consistent approach on decision-making on the ALR.
- The building of mansions and lifestyle estates on ALR land has steadily increased in recent years.
- In Richmond, for instance, the number of mega-mansions on ALR land has increased 13.3% between 2011 and 2016.
- This can lead to significantly inflated farmland prices that prevent new, often younger farmers from entering the profession and decrease the incentives for currently active farmers to keep farming.
- Setting a maximum house size of 500 square metres throughout the ALR guarantees consistency and fairness throughout the province.
- Some local governments have bylaws restricting house size well below this maximum, while others exceed it, or have no restrictions at all. Enshrining a maximum house size in the act provides strong and clear provincial direction, but will still allow local governments to set lower maximum house sizes in their respective jurisdictions.
- Farmers who require a primary house size larger than the regulated maximum house size will be able to apply to the ALC for an exemption if the house size is needed for farming purposes.
- Additional residences required for farming purposes on the ALR will now be directed to the ALC for decision.
- Existing houses larger than 500 square metres, as well as those that have substantially begun construction, will be grandfathered under the new bill.
- There has been a substantial increase in the amount of fill, including construction and demolition waste, placed on ALR land.
- This significantly degrades the arable top soil that originally made this prime agricultural land.
- The damage is often permanent, putting the land out of production.
- In this fiscal year alone, the ALC has had 191 compliance and enforcement files related to fill, representing 45% of all total compliance and enforcement files. The majority of complaints are in the South Coast panel region, where the ALR is threatened by rapid urban development.
- Under the new bill, dumping construction waste and other damaging substances on farmland will be prohibited, with strong penalties for enforcement.
- For other types of fill, such as soil used to build a berm, land owners will be required to submit a notice of intent before placing fill on their parcels of land. This notice of intent will serve as a record to help the ALC with monitoring and compliance.
- New offences for illegal fill and soil removal have been created under the new act with maximum penalties of $1 million or six months imprisonment for a first offence.