The trouble with the Agricultural Land Reserve Act is that it promises things it can never deliver.
To the developer, the existence of a mechanism to remove land provides the hope of cheap, easy to develop land. In Chilliwack, almost every piece of “farm” land from Evans Rd. in the west to Prest Rd. in the east is owned or optioned by people interested in the future development potential of the land, not its agricultural capacity. Despite the Agricultural Land Commission’s obvious commitment, its very existence, and the mechanism to remove land, drives speculation and price. The net result is that agricultural land in Chilliwack is likely 10 times higher in value than it should be.
To the farmers – not those who benefit from supply managed commodities, but those romanticized by media and “city folk,” who try to make a living selling fruit, vegetables, beef or pork – the hope was that the Agricultural Land Reserve Act and the protection of farm land would translate into protection for agricultural industries as a whole. The price of land and cheap imports has decimated this portion of the industry. Clearly, the loss of all major food production facilities in Chilliwack stands as a testament to the decline in all non-protected production. The ALR Act has done nothing to protect the agricultural industry as a whole.
To many people living in communities, the hope of the ALR was to forever be surrounded by bucolic vistas and open space. The naïve belief was being surrounded by undevelopable farmland would put an end to growth. We could all live happily in our large lot, single family homes. Unfortunately, growth doesn’t stop and the preservation of the “open spaces” came with other costs… higher density, hillside development, higher housing prices… and smells. Had I a dollar for every smell complaint while Mayor I could have retired years ago.
As the provincial government looks at the issue, my experience tells me there is really only one solution. Re-assess the land in the reserve to ensure we have it all right, call it an agricultural land reserve and remove any ability to have it released for any other purpose. Re-development will become the new reality, and will accelerate development in areas ready for re-development, like the downtown. Good developers will always make money. Inexperienced developers who require easy-to-develop projects will drop out of the business.
The impact of freezing the use of all agricultural land will lower the price of farmland which could, hopefully, mean more profitability for crops and products not currently protected by supply management.
Communities would become denser, however despite the fears, this actually does bring more vibrant, safer and more walk-able neighbourhoods. Higher densities make transit more effective and more efficient. Higher densities also mean more tax revenue per acre and more efficient municipal services.
There are two large bullets we have to bite on. Firstly, we cannot implement this legislation as it was in the past. The 1972 ALR Act amounted to basic and simple expropriation without compensation. Governments must buy up the development rights from the agricultural land owners. Over time this can be accomplished through tax restructuring, both municipal and provincial.
Secondly, there will need to be much more work done on the urban/agricultural interface. Smells are one thing, however, much more work needs to be done on agricultural run-off and disruptive farm practices like bird-scare devices.
The current proposal of a two-tiered system of land is flawed. As long as the option for removal exists, nothing will change.
Just my humble opinion.