Ted Lea stands in one of his neighbour’s yards that backs onto the Alberg cow feed farm in residential Gordon Head. Neighbours are angry that the cow farm is there

Caught between a cow and a hard place

Gordon Head neighbours losing patience in standoff between farmland owners and Saanich

Gordon Head neighbours losing patience in standoff between farmland owners and Saanich

Ted Lea is on the losing end of a dispute he’s not even a part of.

A family of cow farmers and Saanich council remain locked in a stalemate, but it’s Lea and his fellow Gordon Head neighbours who say they are the ones suffering.

“The smell’s not too bad now, but there’s the odd waft. The cows are relatively quiet, but they’re going to get noisier, and louder, and smellier,” Lea said of the 23 Angus cows now living on land in the middle of their residential neighbourhood at the base of Mount Douglas. “And a lot of people are worried about their property values. A lot of the neighbours feel they’re being held hostage and bullied.”

The Albergs, who own 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd., installed a cattle feedlot in late February after multiple attempts failed to subdivide and build homes on their agriculturally protected property. Council twice denied approval on the basis that they didn’t want to lose farmland.

Right now it’s a win-lose situation for the Albergs, who’ve dug in their heels and say Saanich needs to make the next move if they want the cow farm gone. The lot is now being used to turn a small profit for the family, but the cow farm comes at the expense of their neighbours’ support and quality of life.

“This is taking way too much time for everybody, and just getting people upset and people worried about their homes and children,” Lea said.

A letter-writing campaign is underway, with much of the unified neighbourhood urging the Albergs to submit another rezoning application.

“We agree that you may have been treated in an unfair manner by Saanich … but your response is just as unfair to your neighbours, including the many that initially supported you,” Lea and his wife, Lora, wrote.

“This is not about winning a battle between you and Saanich; it is about doing what is right for the neighbourhood and leaving a family legacy that you can be proud of and one that your parents would be proud of.”

Don Alberg, who inherited the property along with his siblings Gordon Alberg and Florence Davis, says he doesn’t want to take a “leap of faith” and put his trust in a council that wasted their money in the past.

The fear, he says, is the Agricultural Land Commission could remove all farmland protection and Saanich could potentially deny rezoning again, leaving the property that can’t be farmed or developed for housing.

The Albergs are demanding that Saanich guarantee subdivision rezoning before sending a request to the ALC to remove the land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

No can do, responds Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.

“What they’re asking for is not legal, nor is it likely. It would be unlawful for council to zone the property for a use that’s not permitted (like allowing more houses) while it’s in the Agricultural Land Reserve,” Leonard said. “(Council) cannot eliminate risk for a developer. In exchange for risk they have a reward. To seek the reward of increased density on that property without risk is unreasonable.”

Brian Underhill, executive director of the ALC, says he’s aware of the situation brewing in Saanich. Speaking in generalities, however, he agrees with Leonard that zoning cannot be changed until his organization makes a decision.

“This type of situation is not that common, but it is not, at the same time, uncommon throughout British Columbia,” he said of the neighbours’ frustrations as a result of suburbia encroaching on farmland. “That’s why the commission prefers working closely with municipalities on land-use planning.”

Don Alberg says the other big deterrent keeping him from filing another rezoning application are the costs involved.

“For us to spend several thousand dollars on doing something else and go through the whole process again doesn’t seem reasonable to us,” he said. “Saanich is sticking with their guns that they can’t rezone it without it being out of the ALR, and we’re saying they can. … There’s neighbours saying we should submit a plan, get on with it, stop holding them up for ransom. We’re so gun shy about doing that. I think council has to show good faith.”

For Lea and his fellow neighbours, they’re strongly urging the Albergs to get on with another development application – regardless of the risk.

“It’s sort of our last step. There’s nothing else we can do after this if (the Albergs) will not change their direction right now,” Lea said. “The mayor warned something like this could happen, but I think a lot of people were hoping (the Albergs) were bluffing. They clearly weren’t, and now look at this mess.”

 

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

 

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