Present: Mayor Maja Tait Acting Mayor Jeff Bateman, and Councillors Al Beddows, Ebony Logins, Megan McMath, Brenda Parkinson and Tony St-Pierre.
At the February 25 Council meeting, Council considered and ultimately denied an application for the District of Sooke to support the removal of a parcel of land at 6912 West Coast Road from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
First to speak was David Bush, lawyer represented the property owners at 6912 West Coast Road. He reminded council that the ALR exists to encourage farm use, adding that in the past, excellent fertile land was lifted from the ALR. Case in point: Sunriver. Now, he pointed out, lands that should not be in the ALR are being kept in the ALR, referencing 6912 West Coast Road. Bush told council that the current owners are not speculators, they’ve owned it for 45 years. They want to see the land used. He also noted that last year, they barely earned their farm gate sales. (Farm gate sales must reach a certain minimum in order for the land owner to pay fewer in taxes in return for farming production.)
Bush pointed to a Stantec report, which was independently prepared, which gave that specific lot a 4F rating (from the report: ” Laboratory data have pH(CaCl2) ranging from 5 to less than 4 and is rated a 4F (severe fertility limitations).”). You can’t get much lower than that, Bush noted. Past development in the area has caused extra water erosion on that land. It’s now wetter and less productive than it was in the past. Land remediation efforts have failed.
Bush also referenced the pig farm. It wasn’t meant as a threat, it was a statement of exploration of viable options. The owners don’t want to put in a hog farm. On behalf of the clients, Bush apologized to Council if that was taken as a threat, reiterating that that was not their intention.
They can’t even produce hay, because the land is so wet. There’s no agricultural loss in removing this from the ALR.
Ultimately, it would be a decision left to the Agricultural Land Commission. That said, the ALC takes into consideration applications that are supported or submitted with no recommendation; applications that are rejected by a municipality would receive no further consideration from the ALC.
At first, it looked like Council was amenable to considering a no recommendation option, leaving it to the ALC to decide.
Coun. St-Pierre asked if they’ve considered sheep. Sheep may have hooves issues. St-Pierre noted that pigs also don’t do well in overly wet lands. Coun. Parkinson asked about the designation the land would get if it comes out of the ALR. Staff noted that an OCP amendment would be required, put forward by the land owner. Mayor Tait noted that sewer would need to go in there as well. Staff noted a sewer serviceability study would need to be done. Coun. Bateman noted that in 2012 there was a land swap proposed. Bush noted that the owners may not have the land to do that with, but he would go back to them and ask. Mayor Tait noted that the no-net-land-loss was an OCP requirement, not an ALC one.
Then, the public weighed in.
Several residents asked outright that the District reject the application, as it would affect their property values and their quality of life.
Other presented options that could be considered for the property, while staying within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Options include a pond to deal with the soggy lands. Aquaculture was proposed. Orchards could be planted, cranberries love the water. Flowers, most of which sold in Sooke come from Saanich, are also an option. Someone else noted that 25 laying hens would achieve the annual gate sale number ($2,500). Another pointed out that we are in an agricultural (food security) crisis. A local farmer of eight years looked at the land just before the meeting, and he saw beautiful farm land. Just leave it as farmland, he said.
Overwhelmingly, those who spoke urged Council to reject the proposal.
With public input closed, the matter went back to Council for discussion.
For Coun. Logins, it was an easy matter based on people’s input. She said she was inspired by the community and their creativity. Her feeling was that this piece of land is in the wrong hands; in the right hands, it would be getting the attention it deserves. Logins support recommending rejection.
Coun. Beddows felt that the gate sales were underrepresented. Some of the options presented by the public were creative and do-able. He supported rejecting it.
Coun. St-Pierre supported keeping ALR lands in the ALR.
Coun. Bateman also weighed in, saying he doesn’t support removing this land from the ALR. In the era of climate emergency, he too thinks the land needs to stay in the ALR.
Mayor Tait, who indicated that she wouldn’t support the application to remove the land from the ALR, noted that if a pig farm does come, there are guidelines and set backs and ethical responsibilities. Tait also reminded Council that if they send it in without a recommendation, they won’t have any say on the matter. “Or,” she said, “we can just reject it.”
Coun. Parkinson expressed empathy for the current owners, but ultimately she too felt the property needs to stay in the ALR.
The motion to reject the application for ALR exclusion was made by Logins and seconded by St-Pierre. It carried, unanimously.
The subject was closed with consolations from Bateman, who said this is not the end but a new beginning.
- ALR Exclusion – 6912 West Coast Road – Pdf
- Stantec Report re Agricultural Capability 6912 WCR
- Andrist Correspondence
- Kacki Correspondence
- Bourque Correspondence
- Voss Correspondence
THAT Council forward the application to the Agricultural Land Commission with a recommendation for rejection for Agricultural Land Reserve exclusion application PLN01405 at 6912 West Coast Road.
Also discussed at the February 25 meetings:
- Sooke gets ready to zone cannabis retail stores
- Sooke Council denies land removal from ALR
- Sooke RCMP statistics for January, 2019
- After a decade of flatlined remuneration, Sooke’s elected officials get substantial pay increase