Langford agri-land application on hold

Properties left in limbo even after Agricultural Land Reserve decision

Some Langford property owners have been left hanging as they continue to wait for the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission to make a decision on whether to exclude their land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“It’s painful for a lot of people,” said Glenn Willing, whose family owns property within the ALR on Happy Valley Road. “There’s this stalemate where no one is communicating with each other … (and) now we’re sitting in limbo.”

In October of last year, the City of Langford forwarded an application, on behalf of multiple property owners, to the Agricultural Land Commission for ALR exclusion. That block application included 43 parcels of land and several right of ways, totalling approximately 40 hectares (roughly 100 acres).

The properties are primarily located in south Langford along Sooke, Luxton, Finney, Happy Valley, Dicker, Klahanie and Latoria roads. All of the properties are located within or partially within the ALR and several are less than two acres in size. Under the Agricultural Land Commission Act, some parcels less than two acres do not qualify to be included in the ALR, however, many still hold that designation.

In June, the ALC’s Island panel decided to conditionally exclude roughly 10 hectares from that application, most of which consist of those small lots. However, Langford officials said shortly after learning of that decision they received a letter from the ALC stating the decision was under review.The land has sat in limbo since.

Willing said he didn’t hear from the ALC or the City of Langford after the first decision was made and found it online on his own. Since the application was made by the City, staff had 60 days to appeal the decision on behalf of property owners. Roughly 30 days into that process, Willing said he went into City Hall to get some answers but was told the decision was being revisited by the ALC.

“There was some question to the thoroughness of the committee.” Willing noted in many cases members of the ALC just drove by the properties without actually stepping foot on them. “They didn’t come knock on the door,” he said.

A portion of the ALC Act also states that land must be tillable and Willing noted much of what is in this application isn’t. He pointed to another property in the application: “It would have been a wonderful place to own a gravel pit.”

As for this family’s property, Willing said “part of the land, maybe 70 per cent, is arable.” The other 30 per cent consists of rock outcrops and that is what he said the family wants removed from the ALR. However, their parcel was refused for exclusion in the first decision.

“They’re not consistent and they’re picking on very low grade soil compared to the mainland,” he said. Even locally, he noted, the soil quality on these properties is not comparable to other areas such as farms in Central Saanich. Plus the timeline for decisions isn’t always comparable and pointed to the application the Town of Sidney made to have land near the airport removed. The ALC received that application on Sept. 30, 2015 and the decision letter was dated Jan. 11.

That frustration was echoed by Langford Mayor Stew Young, who said, “locally, there’s not much support we can get from the ALR … It needs to change, there needs to be emphasis put on local decision.”

He also expressed frustration with the timeline. “The process on this takes too long … It just slows to a grinding halt,” he said. “The whole ALR system needs to be revamped.”

But while the City is waiting, he hoped that the review of the Island panel’s decision would end with more land excluded. “A lot of the land we presented has never been farmed,” he said, noting that it was lumped into the ALR with surrounding lands when the ALR was created in the ’70s.

Young said politicians shouldn’t be part of the technical side of the decision, which is why he said the City hired an agrologist to study the land and researched this for 15 years before putting forward the block application for exclusion. “I thought this was a smart way to do it,” he said. “This is a huge expense to the City and the individuals.”

Ideally, the mayor wants the City to charge property owners a fee once their land is removed from the ALR and rezoned. Last summer council proposed that landowners pay $13.45 per square metre to create a fund for the City to buy prime farmland to establish a co-operative. “We’d like to own the real farmland … and actually get it into production,” Young said. “(But) if they’re going to leave everything in the ALR there’s no real value.”

In its decision the ALC stated, “the panel wishes to make it clear that the potential for financial contributions to the City’s agriculture reserve fund formed no part of the panel’s consideration regarding the proposed exclusions.”

Willing said the proposed fee the City wants to charge ALR land owners is no small amount and feels it is unfair. In his case, he said it would translate to roughly $50,000. “People should not have money extorted from them for something that never belonged in the ALR.”

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