New approach to ALR land sought by City of Langford

City hopes Agricultural Land Commission will consider new method of removing land from reserve

The City of Langford is looking for new ways to approach farmland protection and development, by proposing a way to ease removal of properties from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Coun. Lilian Szpak wrote the Agricultural Land Commission’s (ALC) Island Panel in March to indicate mayor and council’s desire to meet with the panel and discuss the creation and implementation of an action plan. A report discussed Thursday by the city’s agricultural advisory committee, which last met in April 2013, stated the goal was “to move forward from the current status quo with respect to Langford’s agricultural strategy.”

Szpak’s letter outlined an initiative that would see “non-productive ALR lands” removed from the land reserve after “a significant contribution is made by the owner/developer towards the ongoing support of intensive agriculture on capable lands.”

Those contributions would go into a fund managed by an independent corporation or committee made up of community members. While details still need to be worked out on that aspect of the plan, the money would be used to support infrastructure improvements such as irrigation and drainage for agricultural activities on land best suited for that purpose, Szpak said.

“This is a way to help fund the values we cherish here. We want to be able to grow local and shop local, and this is how we can continue to expand those aspects of our community,” Szpak said, in making the best use of the land we have in the community.

“We’re being proactive and innovative in the way we look at our agricultural strategy,” Szpak told the Gazette, “and we’re asking (the ALC) to consider an alternative proposal that will put our arable land to its best use.”

“Langford isn’t an ordinary, everyday community, so we need solutions that are maybe out of the ordinary. We need to think outside the box. Just because we’re used to doing things a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do them,” Szpak added. “We’d like (the ALC) to consider and appreciate our innovation and forward thinking.”

Szpak said the proposed new approach stems from a study the city had done in 2007 when they discovered much of the land in the ALR in Langford was really not very suitable for farming.

“The limited area of arable land … renders it unsuitable for sustained commercial agricultural activity except for high intensity, high layout input horticulture use,” the study found, in regards to two of the properties currently being considered for removal from the reserve –  3497 and 3505 Happy Valley Rd. It also found, “the lack of connectivity to other lands with agricultural potential severely limits the long term agricultural potential of the subject properties. These isolated parcels are faced with encroaching urban development on formerly vacant land which is out of the ALR.”

The City’s proposed initiative would see parcels of land like these more easily removed from the ALR.

Matthew Baldwin, Langford director of planning, said later a recommendation also came out of the committee meeting to ask the commission to come in and re-evaluate ALR parcels in Langford to determine if they really should be a part of the reserve.

Baldwin said the commission has never really looked at the land in the reserve to see if it’s actually best suited for agriculture, which leads to the issues of having people wanting their land removed from it.

“Rather than deal with these things on a piece-by-piece basis,” he said, “It would be nice for them to come look at the land and help us create a plan for agriculture here.”

The committee recommendations will now go before council for consideration.