Island Trustees frustrated with ambiguous ALC responses

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 6 2018

The BC Ministry of Agriculture is undergoing an engagement process as part of revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve and Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) is certainly hoping that islanders chime in on the process, especially given how unresponsive the ALC was in answering a referral for the Gabriola Housing Strategies project.

At issue, as debated this past week by the members of the Gabriola LTC, is that there is so much left open to interpretation when it comes to allowing secondary (and tertiary) housing on ALR properties.

Originally, the LTC had planned to make changes which would allow owners of properties in the ALR to build secondary suites into accessory buildings in lieu of the manufactured home which is currently allowed by both the Gabriola bylaws and ALC standards.

The sticking point is that by the ALC requirements, the property has to maintain farm status to have the manufactured home.

The Gabriola Trustees and staff have now removed any changes to what is permitted in the ALR from the Phase 1 part of the Housing Project - this will allow Phase 1 of the project to still continue, while putting the subject of secondary suites in accessory buildings in the ALR into Phase 2 of the project.

This past Thursday, the LTC heard from members of the public that having those secondary suites can serve more than one purpose for farms in the ALR.

Islander Nancy Hetherington Peirce said during the public hearing for bylaw 293 that the ALR changes should be kept in the amendment bylaws and passed as part of Phase 1.

“I think including a secondary suite over an outbuilding provides another option for non-farming renters. The current option [of a manufactured home] for further housing on ALR lands is restricted to family or farming workers.

“Here is an opportunity to meet the purpose of the review in another way for tenants, because there are no restrictions on who can be the tenants.”

She added that while there may be issues around enforcing to make sure a property maintains farm status, the benefits of having more farming housing on Gabriola outweigh the enforcement challenges.

Farmer Graham Bradley also proposed to leave the ALR changes in the Phase 1 bylaws.

He pointed out that not only would it allow for more housing of persons working on the farm, it could potentially act as a form of income for the farm if rented out to people not directly involved in working that farm.

“Small-scale farmers would be able to have an alternative income to help subsidize an industry which is hard to make a living at.”

Bradley also pointed out that for some of the small-scale farms, or ones with challenging topography, bringing in a manufactured home would not necessarily work.

Allowing for secondary suites in accessory buildings would be a better use of the limited space on small-scale farms.

He added that suites would still prove valuable as housing for farm labour.

“When you look at the average age on Gabriola, and the kind of labour available, not everyone is willing to live in a tent for the summer on Gabriola.”

Trustee Heather O’Sullivan said she has sympathy for the people who are frustrated with the ALR wording, and with the ALC process. 

“I am not frustrated with our [Trust] staff. I am frustrated with the fact we have no referral response from [the ALC]....with the fact that after 10 months we have had no referral from the ALC...and I find their regulations are so vague.

“I really think it is wrong that farm status is required to continue occupying that accessory building, that you could be forced to decommission a suite if you don’t make your agricultural profit to keep your farm status.

“I am so conflicted between wanting to keep that in, because I fully see how valuable it could be, and the danger of creating insecure housing stock, which is what we’re trying not to do.”

Trustee Melanie Mamoser said it has been frustrating to go ten months with no clarity from the ALC as the LTC has been considering the bylaws.

She said the public hearing for the housing bylaws held in December of 2017 was interesting, as the LTC “heard from farmers in the community. The idea of a potential for vulnerable housing stock. There’s also the idea of farmers not having a home to live in during the non-farming season.”

In the end, the LTC did not bring the ALR changes back into the housing bylaws being carried forward.

Instead, the LTC and Trust staff will be seeking clarity from the ALC on what is possible for the farms in the ALR for increased housing.

Trustees are encouraging islanders to take part in the ALR consultation process which will be ongoing until April 30.

O’Sullivan said, “In its own discussion paper on the consultation process, the Agricultural Land Commission specifically identifies a “need for clearer regulations and consistency in interpretation.” 

“This need became very clear at a local level during the Housing Options Review project. Greater clarity and flexibility in the ALR policies could serve communities such as ours by simultaneously creating opportunities for reliable income for farmers (thus increasing local food security) and secure affordable housing, without placing any increased pressure on arable land. Instead, ambiguity in the ALR regulations as they are currently presented creates barriers to realizing these potential benefits of limited residential uses on ALR land. 

“Taking the time to participate in the ALR’s online survey could help ensure that the future bylaws could be crafted to be compatible with the ALR regulations and still create the win-win Gabriola farmers deserve.”

The survey focuses on collecting British Columbians’ opinions and views on these common themes:

• A defensible and defended ALR

• ALR resilience

• Stable governance

• Efficacy of zones 1 and 2

• Interpretation and implementation of the Act and regulation

• Food security and BC’s agricultural contribution

• Residential uses in the ALR

• Farm processing and sales in the ALR

• Unauthorized uses

• Non-farm uses and resource extraction in the ALR

• Other ideas to support revitalization are also welcome

The ALR Advisory Committee will provide a final report to the Minister in fall 2018.

Ideas can be submitted by April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m.

To take part, visit the website: engage.gov.bc.ca/agriculturallandreserve/ways-to-participate-2/

Those without access to internet can visit the Gabriola Public Library, where staff will be able to guide people through the online process.