The size of homes that can be built on farmland should be capped, and Agricultural Land Reserve scofflaws should be penalized more robustly for minor offences, a panel tasked with “revitalizing” the ALR has told the province.
The growing of pot in cement-bottomed greenhouses also shouldn’t be allowed in the ALR, said the panel, which was convened earlier this year and issued its interim report Wednesday.
That report says the province should increase enforcement of ALR rules and introduce “smaller scale, immediate enforcement options, on par with other provincial enforcement officers and mechanisms.”
There is currently a “lack of legislative authority for low and mid-level penalties that would support and enforce compliance,” the panel found. Three-quarters of those surveyed by the panel also said more enforcement was needed, but the ALC told the panel that to increase enforcement, it will need more resources.
Abbotsford council has heard that hundreds of farm properties in the city – three quarters of which is in the ALR – are being used in contravention of ALR rules. The city’s AgRefresh process, which was to formulate a plan to deal with the properties, was put on hold this spring pending the introduction of new legislation by the province.
A cap on the size of homes built on farmland was also needed to protect against residential speculation, the panel told the province.
The panel said they heard “unanimous support across the province for prohibiting ‘estate-style homes’” and for bringing in strict limits on the floor space of new homes. The report said farmland is currently being bought by non-farmers who take advantage of lower tax rates on farmland and a lack of limits on the size of homes in the ALR. That, in turn, drives up the price of land for those who actually want to farm it.
Local governments should also be empowered to cap the size of homes in the ALR even lower than the provincial limit, the panel said.
The government should also immediately ban the non-soil production of pot on properties in the ALR, and take a deeper look at broader issues involving marijuana cultivation, with an eye on permitting cannabis only after an application is made to the ALC.
The potentially vast scale of pot production – much of which is expected to take place in cement-bottomed greenhouses – has the potential to drive up ALR land prices and squeeze out food producers, the province was told. Marijuana cultivation is also incompatible with many other agricultural uses, the panel said.
“Agriculture stakeholders are concerned about large cannabis operators with substantial financial resources squeezing out local farmers,” the panel said.
The panel also recommended the province and ALC clamp down on the dumping of illegal fill on ALR properties, increase collaboration between cities and the ALC, and improve clarity around applications to alter a property’s ALR status. It said the project should ditch the controversial “two-zone” system that has relaxed restrictions on farmland use in areas outside of the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Okanagan.
The panel is expected to issue its final report this fall. It is considering a variety of other issues, including rules on greenhouses and commercial composting, the locations permitted to build a house on a farm property, and an examination of the farm income threshold needed to benefit from tax reductions.
That last item could have a significant impact on the ability of hundreds of Fraser Valley property owners to achieve farm status and pay less tax than similarly valued properties in more urban areas.