A special meeting to discuss the exclusion of four parcels of land in Langford near Happy Valley and Latoria roads from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lasted less than 10 minutes, with council voting to ask the province’s Agricultural Land Commission for their removal.
The committee recommendation being considered stated that any parcels being taken out of the ALR and rezoned should require the owners to pay the city $13.45 per square metre, to be contributed to an agricultural reserve fund for use as a benefit to agriculture, as described in Langford’s official community plan.
Langford resident Bea McKenzie was one of three members of the public in attendance at the Tuesday meeting. When asked for public input she was quick to her feet.
“I feel that there should be no loss to the ALR,” she said, “it’s been preserved this long.”
After the meeting McKenzie voiced concern about the future of farming in Langford.
“I believe that the ALR was a very good thing that was set up to preserve land for future farming,” she said. McKenzie added that local food should come from local growers, but it can’t in Langford because there isn’t enough land in the ALR in Langford. “We need to protect our farmland,” she said.
Of Langford’s 244 acres in the ALR, only three to four acres are being actively farmed according to Matthew Baldwin, director of planning. Only about 60 per cent of that land is deemed farmable, however, the definition of what was considered farmable was up for debate during the meeting.
Afterward, however, Mayor Stew Young was clear on his thoughts on the matter.
“When I walk the properties, I kind of feel for these people,” he said. “Three-quarters of some of the properties … aren’t even farmable and never would be,” he said. “You’d never spend the money to cut the trees down, level the rock, bring in soil – what’s the point?”
The provincial government hasn’t addressed such properties through the ALR, Young added. “The Province has just said ‘it’s ALR, that’s it.’ Let’s cut the rhetoric of ‘let’s save the farm land.’ Let’s actually look at it.”
The mayor has bigger plans for the future of the ALR in the Langford area.
“Ideally, what Langford is trying to do is get the farmland, us own it, and it’ll be just like having a park – a farm-park.” The intent, he said, would be to create a farming co-operative in which the land could be leased out on a long-term basis, and crops identified that would be best suited for specific pieces of property.
The city could not realistically afford to buy the 150 or so acres that was deemed farmable, he said, but though rezoning and gifts from landowners to the community, the idea becomes much more feasible.
“Everyone has to take an open mind to it,” Young said. “Our mandate is to actually get real farmland, and get it out there and put it into a co-op. I’d like to see 50 acres under cultivation with the support of our community.”
Ultimately, the province’s Agricultural Land Commission still decides what land comes out of the ALR, and getting council’s approval is just the first step in a long process. It’s a process Young hopes to make easier for municipalities like Langford that are interested in removing a number of properties.