Protecting farmland the right call

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012

Saanich landowner feeling henpecked
Saanich News October 17, 2012

The chickens aren’t coming home to roost, yet.

A Saanich family’s plan to open a chicken farm on their agricultural land has hit a stumbling block at the municipal level.

Gordon Alberg said his hands were tied after Saanich council twice denied his family’s request to developing housing on property at 1516 Mount Douglas X Rd.

So the family – Gord and his siblings Don Alberg and Florence Davis – went the route council suggested, and proposed a poultry operation that would house 12,000 birds in four barns.

Saanich’s planning department has now denied the family building permits, which Alberg says is all politics.

“They’re trying to have jurisdiction over it,” he said of his property, which is protected in the provincial agricultural land reserve but now sits astride a number of residential neighbourhoods south of Mount Doug Park.

Alberg hired a lawyer, John Alexander, after Saanich staff denied building permits on Sept. 28 due to problems with building sizes and property line setbacks, but not the potential poultry operation.

“This is agricultural land reserve land, and the majority of the concerns that (Saanich) raised simply do not apply to … farm uses,” Alexander said.

Alexander said while Saanich’s lawyers appear to be of the opinion that a building permit should have been issued for the chicken farm, there are still concerns about permitted building sizes and setbacks.

“I’m not convinced Saanich is right about the setbacks. All they’re going to do is drive the project to taller, higher more intrusive barns and more intensive activity along the property lines,” he said. “It’s like ‘be careful what you wish for,’ so to speak.

“The Albergs want to do this in the least intrusive way possible,” Alexander added. “They are committed to getting some productive use of this land, and it really will be council that will determine what the form of that productive use is.”

Saanich’s director of planning Sharon Hvozdanski admits there is conflict between the property as designated farmland while being zoned as residential.

“The use of the land is brought into question based on the existing single-family zoning, and also in regard to the use of the land for farming,” Hvozdanski said. “It’s our opinion that (land-use issues) haven’t been adequately addressed.”

On July 23, Saanich council voted 5-4 to protect farmland and oppose removing the property from the ALR.

The four dissenting voters argued that keeping the land in the ALR could result in a farming operation that would be more intrusive on neighbours than 12 homes and a community garden.

“If you want to save farmland you have to live with it being farmed,” Mayor Frank Leonard said at the time.

Coun. Dean Murdock, one of the more outspoken of the five councillors who voted to reject the housing proposal, stands by the decision.

“We have to stop carving up our farmland and turning it into asphalt-paved subdivision,” Murdock said.

“Our hope was that whatever farm process that might occur there would be a less intrusive farm practice (than a poultry operation) … and I regret the frustration and anxiety this has likely caused the neighbours, but retaining the farmland was the right decision.”