Chris Byra chaired the steering committee that drafted the new Agriculture Area Plan.

Chris Byra chaired the steering committee that drafted the new Agriculture Area Plan.

Ag area plan reflects Chilliwack’s roots

Ag area plan offers ways to support land-use planning and the long-term sustainability of the agricultural industry in Chilliwack

There may always be some sort of urban/rural divide when it comes to farming in Chilliwack.

But the city is on a path to becoming “a centre of excellence” for agriculture under a new Agriculture Area Plan, with a keen emphasis on education, best practices and sustainability.

“This is a land-use plan to support agriculture, but it’s also looking at the urban/rural divide,” said Chris Byra, a local veterinarian who chaired the plan’s steering committee.

Contained in the plan are strategies to address some of challenges, ways to support land-use planning and the long-term sustainability of the agricultural industry.

The plan’s preamble makes it clear what a critical economic engine the ag sector represents in Chilliwack, with 800 farms providing more than 4,500 jobs and generating $600 million in economic activity.

“The plan provides a strong map of what the agricultural community is all about, and a good steering document for the future,” said CEPCO president John Jansen. “It inventories the requirements of agriculture, along with demonstrating its impact.”

Drafted under the leadership of the Chilliwack Agricultural Commission, and with input from stakeholders, the plan was first presented to council in March.

Council approved introduction and first reading of the text amendment to include the ag plan in the OCP last Tuesday.

One of the long-term goals is to help make the agricultural industry become increasingly progressive. The ag landscape in Chilliwack is dominated by dairy, poultry, nursery and greenhouse producers, and 67 per cent of the land base is located with the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“Chilliwack will become a centre of excellence in agriculture focusing on  industry innovation and sustainability and emphasizing education, communication,  conservation, and environmental responsibility,” reads a section of the plan. “The agricultural industry will become increasingly progressive.”

The plan looks at the interface irritants like noise, dust and odours, and recommends solutions within a timeline, as well as the potential opportunities and new partnerships arising.

The vision includes stronger working relationships between city representatives, the agricultural industry, and University of the Fraser Valley, to encourage broader educational options, as well as market opportunities like value-added and food processing options.

City staff is working on drafting a recommendation for council to create an agricultural advisory committee, which would provide advice and support on Agricultural Land Commission applications, and to provide input on proposed bylaws, and other land-use proposals that impact agriculture, according to a staff report.

“I think that is one of the more concrete ideas,” said Byra.

A public hearing is set for June 5 at city hall, to include the new plan as an appendix to the Official Community Plan. Then it comes back to council for final approval.

The OCP amendment and creating the advisory committee of council are seen as  the first two steps toward implementation.

The plan can be found on the city’s website at http://chilliwack.com/main/page.cfm?id=1979.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno