ALR removal shut down

Saanich rejects proposal to develop farm and faces glitch in its own plan
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
By Kim Westad, Times Colonist

A Saanich family’s bid to develop their 1.64-hectare property into a 16-lot subdivision was firmly voted down by Saanich council, with politicians emphasizing the importance of conserving agricultural land.

But the application showed a glitch in the municipality’s Official Community Plan that council also wants to deal with.

The Alberg family has lived at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd. since 1945, and used it for a variety of hobby farm activities until 2005. As the Albergs planted gardens, fruit trees, raised chickens and had cattle grazing the grass, the property around them was gradually rezoned and developed. Now, their property, which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, is largely surrounded by single family homes.

Lands to the north were subdivided in the early 1950s, and to the east in the 1970s. On the east side is the Mercer Place subdivision. Land to the south was developed throughout the 1980s.

The property now has one home on it, set amid 166 trees, most of them Garry oaks.

It is one of only two privately-owned parcels of ALR land in Gordon Head, and councillors are loath to remove anything from the reserve that protects farmland.

Developer Roger Tinney outlined the plan for a 16-lot subdivision that would take into account the Garry oaks, with houses on larger lots between 780 square metres to 1,045 square metres. Those would be similar to the size of recently approved Mercer Place. Houses would be limited to a gross floor area of 435 square metres.

Numerous residents spoke against it, as did most of council. The first step toward rezoning would be Saanich approving an application that the land be removed from the ALR.

That recommendation would then go to the Agricultural Land Commission for a decision.

That first step was voted down by council, with Coun. Paul Gerrard leading the charge.

Gerrard said he committed to protecting ALR lands when he was elected, and it’s something that is growing increasingly important at a time when food security is a concern.

Coun. Dean Murdock was also against removing the land from the ALR and said even if it was not in the land reserve, he would be against a development of this density at that location.

“This is a 1980s-style development and this council is far beyond that,” Murdock said.

Municipal staff had recommended it be forwarded to the land commission, which points out a problem in Saanich’s community plan, Mayor Frank Leonard said.

The plan says that there are to be no ALR exclusion recommendations unless the property meets certain criteria.

That includes an agrologist’s report on how farmable the land is. That report on the Mount Douglas Cross Road land said the agricultural capability was generally poor and that excluding it from the ALR was not anticipated to have adverse impacts on local or regional agriculture.

Leonard said that policy is “not sufficient” to deal with the issue. While an application might meet that simple criteria, it may well not meet with the community or council’s principles.

Council voted to ask staff to report back with suggestions on improving the process and policy.