Langford presses ahead on cash-for-ALR-land plan

The City of Langford is forging ahead with its new agricultural strategy, even if the Agricultural Land Commission isn’t on board.

According to the plan, property owners wishing to remove their lots from the Agricultural Land Reserve’s protection would be charged a fee, which would be used to build a municipal farm fund. The fund would support agricultural projects on remaining arable lots.

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The city argues that even if up to half of the land reserved for agricultural use is removed from the ALR — which critics have called a vital reserve for future food security — there would be a net agricultural benefit.

“We believe we’re justified by the fact that we want to preserve the good farmland that’s there, enhance it, and actually see it farmed,” Mayor Stew Young said.

Too many properties protected by the ALR aren’t being used for farmland, he said.

In some cases, the city could buy arable land and lease it to farmers at affordable rates.

“The people who say they want to farm are getting out of it, because it’s not affordable.”

But while the city recommends properties for exclusion, that decision is ultimately up to the commission.

Commission chairman Frank Leonard told council in a June 19 letter that the independent tribunal’s decisions won’t be affected by knowledge of a municipal farm fund.

“[Commission] staff will discuss applications with Langford staff,” Leonard told the Times Colonist, but “their internal fees are not something we comment on.”

At a special meeting on Tuesday, council voted to continue anyway.

The three-part motion, which must be ratified at a regular council meeting before it takes effect, supported levying the farm-fund fee at the time of rezoning.

Langford will support four property owners in the Happy Valley-Latoria area hoping to remove their land from the ALR — including Happy Valley Lavender and Herb Farm — as long as they pay $13.45 per square metre to the farm fund.

Council also voted to contact 57 property owners whose land has been identified as candidates for exclusion and then submit a block application to the commission on their behalf.

If approved, it could mean that 114 acres could be removed from the ALR, leaving about 119 acres protected.

The 57 properties were identified by agrologist Brian French, who conducted a survey of the land in 2007 for the city.

At the meeting, Langford farmer Bea McKenzie voiced support for removal of land from the ALR only if different lands are added to the reserve in their place.

Director of planning Matthew Baldwin said that won’t be possible.

“There’s virtually nothing to add to the ALR inside Langford that isn’t already there.”

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