Despite a multitude of submissions against Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) removals, and a number of people in attendance that spoke in opposition directly to Mayor & Council this past Monday night during Public Participation, Langford Council, without discussion, voted to send the requests to the Province’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for possible exclusion from the ALR.
Many of the speakers complimented Langford Council on commissioning the 2007 Brian French report on ALR lands in Langford and on striking Langford’s Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) to make recommendations to council on ALR lands.
Pleas were made for Council to find creative ways to support agriculture in Langford as the total area farmed on Vancouver Island has been dropping while the communities on the island, like Langford, have fast growing populations. One speaker questioned, if there are bylaws and regulations to protect riparian areas, why not agricultural lands? Speakers pointed out to council that:
- small parcels of land that can be worked by hand are a benefit to a young farmer starting out
- new techniques in small-scale intensive farming can produce high yields off small plots
- the South Langford area was historically a grain producing region
- that some of the farming attempts on land being sought for exclusion were not appropriate to the land
- that other types of farming done in the South Langford on similar soils and drainage are successful.
It was also noted by another speaker that greenhouse operations do not need good soil, but would benefit from the sunny open flat land being considered for exclusion, and that, “it’s a high labour industry and people who’re successful at it can make good money.” Some speakers also raised the issue what net benefit to agriculture can an exclusion bring? Noting that even Langford’s own AAC at their second meeting in March debated what an exclusion of ALR land could be balanced against for a net benefit to agriculture when Langford has no set policy on acquiring or supporting agricultural land, nor does the Agricultural Land Acquisition Fund have a set mandate on what the money collected from ammenity charges on development will actually be used for. Even Mayor Young, at the end of the ALR discussion noted, “Where we have a problem in Langford, when we have a $500 per unit fund, it would take us 50 years to buy much of this property.”” He suggested a creative solution, “dual uses, recreation first, then turn it back to agriculture,” however that strategy would only retain current ALR land in the reserve, it is not a strategy to add more viable agricultural land to the reserve to offset the proposed and already done exclusions within the City Langford.
BC Green Party candidate for Juan de Fuca, James Powell, a Metchosin farmer, echoed the sentiments of Langford residents indicating he felt, “the Brian French report was a reasonable document,” however it remains “largely inspirational and not acted upon,” thus exclusions from the ALR were being considered, “without providing clear net benefits to agriculture.”
Some procedural irregularities were raised by myself, and went unaddressed by the Mayor and Councillors present. I noted at least 9 submissions I was personally aware of, made to the City of Langford, but not included in the agenda package for the Council’s consideration. I also expressed that I found it odd that the Agricultural Advisory Committee, with its vast and diverse experience, did not get the opportunity to consider any of the public submissions. Matthew Baldwin indicated that this was outside the mandate of the AAC, and Mayor Young indicated, “there were lots of ways to do things that might not suit me.” I challenged, “Yes, but are you not open to improvement?” as I saw the expertise of the committee being under-utilized and burdensome for the Council to have to consider the many public submissions. I also pointed out if the applications were fully completed before they came before the AAC, then the committee could consider the completed applications, not just partial applications or vague verbal reports, and the required advertising and sign posting would have been done, thus the public submissions would be received by City Hall and those could be reviewed by the AAC, along with the proponents and city staff reports.
Another person and myself highlighted that people making submissions to the City of Langford received confusing and misleading replies from City Planner, Matthew Baldwin. In his replies (see his reply here) he stated, “I would suggest that you consider writing to the commission,” even though submissions are to be made to the local government. He also stated, “the decision whether or not land is removed from the ALR rests solely with the ALC, and not with Council for the City of Langford.” I disagreed, and also debated this with Mayor Young who expressed the City of Langford has only 2 options, however there are three very different options, which give local governments varying levels of involvement in the decision making process, thus, the final decision, but certainly not the entire decision process, rests with the Province’s ALC.
I also questioned whether Thomas Atherton, a member of the AAC who appeared at the second meeting of the committee in March, was the same person as T. Atherton, a property owner who applied for an ALR exclusion, that was considered by the AAC at the first meeting in January. Both City Planner Matthew Baldwin and Mayor Stew Young indicated he was, and neither expressed concerned over his possibly conflict of interest. Mayor Young was quick to point out Thomas Atherton was not in attendance at the first meeting when his property was considered. It should be noted however, as a person who attended both AAC meetings, when asked at the second AAC meeting why he did not attend the first meeting Thomas Atherton indicated, after some humming and ha-ing, he was simply out of town. Later in that meeting he participated in a unanimous vote to re-forward the committee’s recommendations from the January meeting (including a recommendation on his own exclusion application) to Council for consideration, something else Mayor Young, and City Planner Matthew Baldwin disagreed with me was an issue. The seven exclusion applications, some with letters of support from the City of Langford, some without, are being forwarded and will now be considered for exclusion by the provincial Agricultural Land Commission.