Abbotsford asks for help enforcing ALR rules

City says Agricultural Land Commission needs to increase enforcement resources

If the B.C. government wants to stop the misuse of farmland, it needs to increase enforcement and make it more difficult for hobby farm estate owners to qualify for large tax breaks.

That’s the message from Abbotsford council in a letter sent last week to a committee looking into changes to “revitalize” the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The letter was sent as the city halted its AgRefresh process, which had aimed to revamp Abbotsford’s land-use rules for farm properties. AgRefresh has been in the works for years, but the province’s sparking of a committee to look at changes to ALR rules means any new policies developed by the city could be out of date within a year or two. That led to council’s decision last week to push pause on the process and send a letter outlining the city’s thoughts on how best to improve the ALR.

(The letter was sent prior to – and separate from – the Agricultural Land Commission’s decision to deny a request by the city to exclude land for industrial purposes.)

A 2016 study for AgRefresh found that as many as 400 agricultural properties in Abbotsford are breaking land-use rules. Among other initiatives, AgRefresh was tasked with developing a strategy to bring non-compliant landowners to heel. But although ALR rules are provincial laws overseen by the ALC, municipalities don’t get much enforcement help; the ALC has just five full-time compliance and enforcement officers to cover the entire province. That number was most recently bolstered in December 2015, when two new officers were hired.

That leaves municipalities with a difficult task, particularly in complicated cases in which rule-breaking is not immediately and visibly apparent.

The letter was sent prior to the decision to deny the city’s application to have farmland excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve in order to provide room for industrial development. The letter did not mention the proposal.

The Ministry of Agriculture noted that it had boosted funding for the ALC in recent years, and that the committee has met with the ALC and discussed compliance and enforcement activities.

Changes to farm-tax policies could also have a huge impact on both city revenues and the bills of those who only barely qualify for the farm status that entitles them to massive property tax breaks.

Depending on the size of a property, owners must meet a certain threshold of farm income in order to qualify for farm status. If they do so, the assessed value of their land is taxed at a farm rate that is usually just a fraction of its actual worth. For example, a home currently on the market for just under $7 million has an assessed value of just $1.3 million, leaving it with a commensurate reduction in the property taxes owed.

The city’s letter notes that while three-quarters of Abbotsford’s land is in the ALR, only 2.1 per cent of all its tax revenue comes from properties from farm classification.

“Changes to farm-tax policy, including raising the farm class income threshold levels, are clearly warranted to balance the benefits being conferred to both the private landowner and society as a whole,” the city’s letter states. “These changes will discourage the use of farmland for lifestyle purposes and help to distinguish between hobby farming estates and commercial farming from a taxation perspective.”

The city suggests raising the threshold will encourage more productive farming, while ensuring that owners of non-productive hobby farms pay their fair share of property taxes.

Asked about the city’s enforcement plan now that AgRefresh is on hold, a city spokesperson said the ALC’s enforcement arm is responsible for contraventions, although Abbotsford’s bylaw team will also respond to calls for service as they are received.

Just Posted

Fire, theft, fights: Homeless population disturbs east Abbotsford neighbourhood

Outreach worker says problems are offshoot of housing crisis

Province has been missing in action on flood protection, experts say

Political will to improve dikes lacking, says B.C.’s former flood safety chief

VIDEO: Fiery crash closes Highway 1 at 232 Street

One vehicle burst into flames, victim airlifted to hospital following Thursday evening collision

Becoming Abbotsford Made

New free basketball camp giving local youth a professional experience

Abbotsford high school football talent sign with university teams

Bateman’s McGennis, Abby’s Uko continue football journeys at post-secondary level

Black Press Media to launch Pipeline Full of Controversy series

Series covers Trans Mountain’s history, science, Indigenous reaction, politics and economics

Canucks sign top prospect Elias Pettersson to entry-level deal

Slick centre drafted No. 5 overall in 2017 NHL draft

Wildfire northwest of Kamloops jumps to 1,600 hectares overnight

Ground crews and aircraft are responding to an estimated 1,600 hectare wildfire approximately 55 kilometers northwest of Kamloops, near the Deadman Vidette Road.

Former B.C. police chief dies in ATV accident

Ex-Nelson top cop began his career in Vancouver

5 to start your day

The latest on mobility pricing, thieves target a farmer’s market, and more

Referendum in Ireland would repeal strict ban on abortion

Voters throughout Ireland have begun casting votes in a referendum that may lead to a loosening of the country’s strict ban on most abortions.

Lava from Hawaii volcano enters ocean from 3 flows

The Kilauea volcano has been gushing lava on the big island of Hawaii for the past three weeks.

Summit talk turns warmer; Trump says ‘talking to them now’

North Korea issued a statement saying it was still “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks

Harvey Weinstein turns himself in, arraigned on rape, criminal charges

Harvey Weinstein arraigned on rape, criminal sex act charges following allegations of sexual misconduct

Most Read