Tag Archives: farmland

Council fails to speak up for residents on ALR removal

Saanich hands decision on Gordon Head farmland to Agricultural Land Commission
By Kyle Slavin, Saanich News December 11, 2012

The fate of an unused parcel of agricultural land in suburban Gordon Head is now in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission.

The four-acre property at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd. was recently slated to become a 12,000-hen poultry operation or, failing that, a cattle farm with 100 cows.

But neighbours, outraged that Saanich council painted the landowners into a corner where farming was the only remaining option, rallied against the aggressive farm plans and asked council Monday night for reconsideration of a residential subdivision instead.

Instead, council voted 8-1 to send the owner’s application to remove it from the agricultural land reserve to the ALC, without comment from council, putting the decision squarely in the hands of the provincial agency.

“It gets us back to (a point) where the development application is neither approved or defeated, and it gets us back to neutral on the land reserve issue, because (without comment) we literally are in a neutral position,” said Mayor Frank Leonard.

But John Alexander, the lawyer representing the Alberg family, which owns the property, says his clients are “quite disappointed” with council’s decision, and is urging the family to move forward on the cattle feed lot to protect their land.

“The land could get caught in the middle where all of the ALR usage rights disappear when it’s removed from the land reserve, and yet there’s no zoning that allows for residential development,” Alexander said.

He said the only options the Albergs have left are going the legal route and indicating to Saanich that they don’t want an application to go to the land commission until the property is rezoned residential, or go the farming route and begin construction of the cattle feed lot.

Some 150 residents jammed into the small council chambers Monday for the committee of the whole meeting, and only a handful of whom vocally expressed concerns to council.

“It makes no sense for this to remain in the ALR. It makes no sense that this should be a chicken farm or an intensive cattle farm,” said Stephen Fletcher, who lives across the street from the property. “If there’s a tasteful opportunity for it to be development, the community will endorse that.”

Saanich council twice rejected plans to develop the property, first in March 2011 when the Alberg family proposed 16-lot subdivision, and then again in July 2012, when the family proposed a 12-lot subdivision plus community garden.

Both times council rejected the development proposals, with a majority of council saying they don’t support residential development on farm land.

But the Mount Douglas Cross Road property, owned by siblings Don Alberg, Gord Alberg and Florence Davis, hasn’t been farmed in decades, noted Mercer Place resident Mark Vukobrat.

“If this property is taken out of the ALR there is no loss of food production because there’s been no food production on this land for some time,” he said, noting a petition he circulated in the neighbourhood saw 233 area residents say they’d rather have homes than an intensive farm nearby.

Alexander said, if necessary, the Albergs will contact the ALC directly and request that any application Saanich may send on their behalf should not be considered.

“(Council) came up with the motion (Monday night) with no notice to the owner, no opportunity for the owner to express their view on it,” Alexander said. “They really felt blindsided.”

Monday’s meeting was originally intended to focus on amending official documents in Saanich – the official community plan and the Gordon Head local area plan – which conflict in terms of land use plans for the Alberg property.

Coun. Dean Murdock, the sole dissenting vote at the meeting, said the motion to send the application, without comment, to the ALC is “a failure to the residents who elected us to represent them.”

“The discussion was pitched as black and white, but I think there was a large grey area that was unexplored,” he said. “What we’ve done is pack the whole thing up and send it to the ALC. That’s basically a recipe to unlock this (for residential development), and then it’s just a discussion around what kind of development goes here.”

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, the NDP’s agriculture critic, spoke at the council meeting about smart farming. She said she felt Saanich “decided that this property isn’t a farm years ago,” by developing everything else around it.

The agriculture critic took the stance that, given its location, this property should be developed, instead of farmed.

“It’s a difficult choice that I’ve made, and I’ve probably disappointed some folks in the audience. As far as Saanich as a community, I think it’s a better direction to have a subdivision,” she said.

Coun. Judy Brownoff stressed that she doesn’t want to see a net loss if this parcel of land is removed from the ALR. “If land comes out of the ALR, equal value land should go back in,” she said, suggesting a portion of Saanich’s newly acquired Panama Flats that isn’t currently protected agricultural land.

Leonard, too, has previously suggested including more of Panama Flats in the ALR.

If all goes ahead as council anticipates, Leonard says the next steps in the process are for Saanich staff to send the application to the ALC. That process could take months.

In an email Alexander sent the Albergs on Tuesday, he said he doesn’t anticipate that ALC process to be complete until June or July 2013. He suggested moving ahead with the feed lot in January or February to preempt any ALC decision.

Saanich News: Food Security

We asked the Saanich mayor and council candidates to provide their thoughts and strategies on food security.

Dean Murdock, council candidate:

The cost for families to put food on the table is rapidly increasing. With rising costs of importing foods from the around the world, it makes sense to focus on growing food right here at home. We can make our region food secure by respecting the urban containment boundary and refusing to allow development on farmland. We can promote local food production by implementing Saanich’s “buy local” food program and working with local municipalities and businesses to encourage adoption of similar programs. We should promote local food markets and expand community gardens on public and private open space.

Standing up for farmland

Saanich Council Demonstrates ‘Smart Growth’
A. Furtado, Saanich Voice Online

For the third time since Saanich adopted their Official Community Plan, Saanich Council rejected rezoning applications from developers that wanted to sacrifice potential farmland for short term profits. The most recent application was defeated unanimously, effectively putting an end to the developer’s plan to construct 16 homes on land currently located in the Agricultural Land Reserve. “As our population grows, there is an increased demand for development and pressure to encroach upon agricultural land,” states Saanich Councillor Dean Murdock. “Developing agricultural land to accommodate growth is killing the goose for its golden egg. It compromises our food security and makes a mockery of our land-use plans, while contributing to car-dependent sprawl.”

Councillor Murdock continues “Agricultural land is too important to carve up into parcels for urbanization…Instead of paving our farmland for housing to generate real estate income, we should be looking for more ways to support our local farmers by keeping farming profitable.” With dramatic increases in fuel and food costs, residents are realizing that having local food readily available is no longer optional, but is becoming a necessity. According to Councillor Murdock rising food costs are making it more expensive to put meals on the table “…ensuring we have quality, affordable food supports our farmers, our health and our environment too with a smaller carbon footprint.” The Capital Regional District is also in agreement, as they transition to what is called a “Regional Sustainability Strategy” to promote food security within the region. A CRD memorandum states, “There is a greater need and desire for accessing local food sources to promote well being and to connect with the land. Traditional production and agriculture systems are failing on many fronts, including loss or fragmentation of productive agricultural land.”

This measured approach from Saanich Council to protect agricultural land, comes in stark contrast to neighbouring municipality Central Saanich, where the current council’s attitude towards development is quite different. In addition to re-designating ALR land for the approx. 50-home Vantreight subdivision, Central Saanich is currently fast tracking approval for the Co-Op to build a large scale shopping center on rural land, as well as approving numerous building applications where lots are being divided into parcels as little as 30 feet in width. This may seem ironic, when considering 60 years ago Central Saanich separated from Saanich primarily to protect its land from urbanization.

In Central Saanich, the future of rural land was discussed at the March 30th 2011 Advisory Planning Commission Special Meeting, where fears of “densification” repeatedly arose throughout the evening. A number of concerned residents in attendance spoke out requesting that Council must create guidelines regarding densification that also support the Official Community Plan, before more applications for subdivisions are approved. Resident David Wilson said that Central Saanich infrastructure is over 40 years old and is “insufficient” to support the strain that council is imposing with increased densification. Wilson also noted that development in Central Saanich appears to be “unrestricted” and the community is upset with the lack of consistency and rules surrounding development applications.

Central Saanich Councillor John Garrison was asked for his view on densification. “Any time you put anything down, people regard it as densification…council has approved funding for creating guidelines for densification and to get public input starting in September.” However, according to Garrison, Council has no plans to change how they process development applications while they await these guidelines. Central Saanich Councillor Terry Siklenka, Director on the Council of Construction Associations and a former Director on the Vancouver Island Construction Association, was asked how he felt densification could help Central Saanich. No reply was received.

This Fall there will be a municipal election critical to the future of Central Saanich. The new, incoming council will be reviewing the Official Community Plan, which designates how much farmland Central Saanich will have and where that farmland will be located within the municipality. The ramifications of this review could change the landscape of Central Saanich forever. According to Councillor Murdock, “Protecting and enhancing local food production starts with saving agricultural land and maintaining our community’s urban containment boundaries…doing so will protect our quality of life, food security, our health and our climate for now and for future generations.”

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.

Council rejects ALR removal

Saanich turns down request to turn ALR land into ‘suburbia’
By Kyle Slavin – Saanich News

Five years ago Saanich council likely would’ve given the green light to a 16-home subdivision on protected agricultural land. But times – and priorities – certainly have changed.

A request to exclude a 1.64-hectare parcel of land was rejected unanimously Monday night by a council that called the proposed project “repugnant” and “offensive.”

“This is borne out of 1980s development,” said Coun. Dean Murdock of the single-family lots, straight out of suburbia. “Our regional growth strategy would find this issue repugnant.”

Recently adopted official community plans (OCP) set goals for the future of Saanich, including the promotion of high density projects in urban areas and food security through farming. Neither of those issues were addressed in the proposal, submitted by the Alberg family, who have owned the land for decades.

“It all hinges on what our values are,” Coun. Susan Brice said. “For us to support the removal of land from the ALR it would have to be such a compelling argument (and be) for the greater good of our community … not the development of more houses.”

A dozen neighbours of the property, at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd., spoke against taking the land out of the ALR. Despite the findings of an agrologist, hired by the applicant, who reported that the soil on the site is of poor quality, many speakers were adamant the land still be used for farming.

“It’s been farmed in the past,” said neighbour Pat Summers, who has a background in agricultural. “Yes, it’s not being farmed. Does that mean they couldn’t farm it in the future? No. You might not be able to plant potatoes, but you can also amend the soil. There’s lots of things that can happen.”

Councilors agreed with neighbours’ sentiments that the agrologist’s findings that “the sustainability of agricultural activity is generally poor” and “the exclusion of this isolated parcel from the ALR is not to have adverse impacts on … agricultural operations” doesn’t tell the whole story.

“These decisions rely heavily on the science, the history, and the policy surrounding the property,” Mayor Frank Leonard said. “We have standards to keep, so my recommendation is that we, essentially, get a second opinion.”

His concern is that there are a handful of similar small properties remaining in the municipality that are surrounded by residences, but have yet to come forward to be excluded from the ALR. He anticipates they will all eventually be brought before council.

Leonard asked staff to look at policy in dealing with these remaining properties to ensure the most accurate information is being given to councillors.

“Farming and local food production has changed. To say it’s too small or it’s not feasible in today’s reality is not true,” Coun. Judy Brownoff said. “I have problems relying just on the agrologist. We need more information, more policy and more third party analysis.”

Despite staff’s recommendation that council approve the exclusion of land from the ALR, the application failed. Staff will now look at other options for council to receive more thorough information on agricultural land use.

Saanich Council rejects application to remove land from ALR

Saanich council rejects application to remove land from Agricultural Land Reserve for rezoning
CFAX 1070 – March 14, 2011

Saanich council has unanimously decided to not forward an application to remove land at Mount Douglas Road from the Agricultural Land Reserve, to be rezoned for 16 residential strata lots.

Saanich Councillor Dean Murdock says supporting the application would go against several of the district’s policies.

“Council has some very strong policies in the official community plan, and following the guidelines in the regional growth strategy as well as a number of our own policies around the urban containment boundary and preservation of farmland that fell definitively on the side of protecting the land.”

Murdock says the land in question was still considered to have agricultural value, with a significant garry oak forest.

“And it would be a significant loss if those garry oaks were put at risk, and if the habitat, natural preservation area created by this land, if that was lost.”

Murdock says he has heard from a number of constituents who support preserving the land.