Cities move to close Chilliwack’s ‘llama loophole’

Two resolutions put forth by City of Chilliwack were passed unanimously at the recent LMLGA Conference.

A couple of positive developments for Chilliwack came out of the recent Lower Mainland Local Government Association conference in Whistler.

“We were two for two,” said Jason Lum, the LMLGA rep for Chilliwack and city councillor.

He’s referring to two resolutions put forth by City of Chilliwack, which passed unanimously at the LMLGA Conference on May 7-9.

One of the resolutions sought to have UBCM ask the province to amend the Assessment Act so that land could not be “reclassified” for farm use if it’s already zoned for commercial, industrial or business purposes. That is it couldn’t be reclassified, unless the farm use “pre-dates the zoning, is the principal use, and the lands are continuously used for farm purposes,” according to the resolution.

Municipalities have been discussing situations where this is happening, and how it’s impacting them.

“The idea is for UBCM to request that the province close the loophole which would allow someone to claim farm status on land not zoned for that use,” he said.

Going from industrial or commercial use, to farm use, would result in a steep reduction in taxes.

“If everyone did this, it would be potentially disastrous for B.C. municipalities,” he said. “The losses would have to be made up for in other tax brackets.”

He said zoning bylaws should be respected, and said the resolution would empower local governments’ zoning bylaws to ensure the use is consistent with what the municipality envisions.

“As local governments, we spend all this time looking at the long-term land use for our communities. If we’re just meant to tax on the land use, or the perceived use, and not look at the underlying zoning, what’s the point? It undermines the actual intent of the zoning.”

Coun. Lum gave the example of medical marijuana rules, which have changed.

“In Chilliwack we will have special industrial zoning. But if someone were to apply for farm status under the current rules, they would receive it. What would happen is that taxpayers would be effectively subsiding that loss in tax revenue,” he said.

The resolution preamble included the line: “Inequities between property owners may result because farm land is assessed at a significantly lower rate than commercial or industrial land.”

The second resolution from Chilliwack was that UBCM seek “greater funding” from the province for Restorative Justice Program to cost share in Restorative Justice programs across the province.

They’re looking to secure stable and predictable funding for restorative programs, the value of which has been repeatedly recognized, in Chilliwack, and across B.C., the councillor noted.

“This one was easily endorsed by the whole assembly,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we kept the momentum going.”