Relaxation of ALR rules proposed

Province suggests more options for farmworker housing possible

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The Ministry of Agriculture is proposing more residential flexibility for people living in the Agricultural Land Reserve and is seeking public feedback on the options. 

As outlined in a policy intention paper released on Jan. 27, a small secondary residence could be available for farmworkers, family members or others as long as there is local government approval.

Previous rules established by the Agricultural Land Commission allowed a secondary dwelling for immediate family members only in manufactured homes, suites above an existing farm building or, in parts of the province, a second single-family dwelling.  

Amendments to the legislation made by the NDP government in 2019 focused on protecting farmland from oversized homes such as those being constructed in Richmond, the dumping of waste materials and other non-farm uses. The resulting policy limited secondary housing possibilities to a manufactured home for an immediate family member, and only if constructed before February 2019.

The deadline on manufactured homes was extended once to February 2020 and then again to Dec. 31, 2020. At the same time, the new residential options being considered reverse the hard-line stance. Options include garden suites and guest houses/carriage suites, as well as accommodation above an existing building, and manufactured homes. Also being considered is permitting a principal residence to be constructed in addition to a manufactured home that was formerly a principal residence. 

In all cases, the secondary dwelling would no longer be restricted to immediate family members. 

Salt Spring’s Agricultural 1 and 2 zones currently permit secondary suites and mobile homes in line with past ALC regulations. Updates to the official community plan and land use bylaw will be needed to reflect any change in ALR housing policy that arise from the provincial review. 

Permitting secondary dwellings in ALR lands would be just a small step toward meeting a recognized community need, though, as islanders working to create a new Area Farm Plan for Salt Spring have observed. 

“The shortage of farmworker housing on Salt Spring Island has been recognized for over a decade,” the working group on protection of small-scale agriculture states in its draft recommendations. “Adequate, compliant housing is prerequisite to increased agricultural production.”

Elizabeth White, who is involved in the project to update the 2008 Area Farm Plan, said farming needs to be supported wherever it is taking place on the island.

“The LTC should have a policy in place to allow farmworker housing on farms that is independent of zoning. If it met the criteria, it would’t matter if it was in the agricultural zone or not,” White said. “We need local government to be really clear on what their criteria is.”

Island trustee Laura Patrick said once the province finalizes its policy on ALR dwellings the Salt Spring LTC will no doubt be working to align with the provincial policy. More comprehensive work to address the issue will also be forthcoming as recommendations from the new Area Farm Plan are forwarded. But a  newly approved LTC housing working group that Patrick is leading may be the best avenue for progress. 

Patrick said farmworker housing will almost certainly be part of that planning project. She believes a broader vision is needed since agriculture and farming also exist outside of the ALR. If the official community plan supported having the types of housing farmers say they need, this could guide the LTC to support “non-adhering” housing applications that would need to go to the ALC for approval.

“Our OCP should reflect how we envision our community,” Patrick said. “We may rub up against other organizations like the Agricultural Land Commission but we shouldn’t constrain ourselves all the time. We should push for what’s best for the community.”

For more on this story, see the Feb. 5, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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