An application to subdivide a piece of land near Downes Road will be forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission.

An application to subdivide a piece of land near Downes Road will be forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Abbotsford council balks at voicing opposition to farmland subdivision plan

Proposal forwarded to land commission, despite previous warning that such referrals are unhelpful

A proposal to subdivide a piece of farmland will go to the Agricultural Land Commission without comment from Abbotsford council, despite a previous warning from the ALC’s former chair that such referrals are unhelpful and contribute to a backlog of requests.

At issue is an application to subdivide a five-acre piece of land on Prairie Street, just north of Downes Road and outside the urban development boundary, into five parcels, which would allow for the construction of four new homes.

The property is bordered on the north by a golf course, on the east by a set of homes on what had once been a similar piece of land, and on the south by a residential neighbourhood.

The application cited a 17-year-old study which had laid out rules for the corridor.

Councillors expressed little enthusiasm for the proposal last week, but several said the ALC had encouraged the application a decade ago and is thus best left to make the decision given a “unique situation” based on its history.

That history and the location of the land were cited by several, including Mayor Henry Braun, who had previously said he didn’t want to see any new residential developments in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Coun. Sandy Blue said the creation of new housing in the ALR is “clearly outside of what we would currently do.” She also noted that the previous chair of the commission had said referrals without opinions attached have contribute to a backlog of required decisions.

But Blue eventually joined with Braun and seven other councillors in voting to forward the application to the ALC.

Coun. Dave Loewen said he did so with “some reluctance,” saying the ALC had “invited this proposal,” and should be the one to make the decision. Couns. Ross Siemens, Brenda Falk, Bruce Banman and Kelly Chahal all voiced a similar sentiment. They were joined by Couns. Les Barkman and Bruce Banman

Braun conceded he has spoken against creating new housing in agricultural lands.

“I have been very consistent in saying that we were not going to go one step out of the ALR for residential developments … so on that basis I found myself leaning to not supporting this,” he said.

But he said the history and location of the property made him think an error had been made in the past. He also said council shouldn’t keep its mouth shut if it is actually opposed to the proposal.

“If we are [opposed], we shouldn’t send it there, we should be brave enough to stick our hands up and oppose it.”

“But,” he added, “if we are in support, if the ALC approves it, I think I’m OK with that too.”

A minute later, Braun and seven councillors voted to send the proposal to the ALC.

Coun. Patricia Ross cast the lone vote in opposition, saying the land in question could be farmed, if improved, but agriculture wouldn’t take place if the property was subdivided.

The city’s agricultural committee had also recommended council not support the application.

While the city won’t officially comment on the proposal, it will send audio of its lengthy discussion of the case to the land commission.

The question of whether agriculture will benefit or be hurt by a subdivision will dominate the ALC’s deliberation on the manner when it receives the application. To be excluded, the ALC must be convinced that the proposal will preserve farmland and encourage its productive use.

RELATED: B.C. agriculture minister names committee to ‘revitalize’ ALR

RELATED: Agricultural Land Reserve changes heading in right direction, say ag reps

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