Agricultural land commission fees jump

The wait to receive rulings from the commission has improved, but costs to property owners have more than doubled.

Agricultural Land Commission CEO Kim Grout addresses the Columbia Shuswap Regional District Board on Feb. 16 regarding changes to the ALC.

Agricultural Land Commission CEO Kim Grout addresses the Columbia Shuswap Regional District Board on Feb. 16 regarding changes to the ALC.

The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) may be providing a more timely service, but the cost to apply has more than doubled.

A Ministry of Agriculture release notes that in the last year the ALC has improved its service delivery since receiving a $1.1-million funding boost.

And while the ALC has eliminated a backlog of 185 applications, and processed more than 90 per cent of all of the applications it received since April 1, 2016 within 90 business days of receiving them, a good chunk of the work is done locally by the City of Salmon Arm and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, both of whom did not get an increase in fee it receives.

The former rate to apply to the commission was $600, of which municipal governments collected $300. With the changes, the cost to apply is $1,500, of which $1,200 goes to the ALC.

“The $300 we get does not come close to covering the costs but, by the same token, the other applications we process here, such as zoning and subdivision, every application we process is subsidized,” says Kevin Pearson, director of planning for the City of Salmon Arm.

Another change is that applicants now make their initial application to the ALC, not to local government. If the ALC accepts the application, it is referred to the municipal government involved for processing. If applicants have issues with their files, they must take it up with the commission, not with municipal staff.

However, as the Ministry of Agriculture’s Feb. 16 news release indicates, there is a money-back guarantee that provides applicants a full refund if they do not receive a decision on their complete application within 90 business days.

As well, the commission states it endeavours to acknowledge whether an application is complete, or identify what additional information is needed, within five business days of receiving the application, 92 per cent of the time, and to make decisions within 60 business days of receiving complete applications, about 80 per cent of the time.

Kim Grout, Agricultural Land Commission CEO made a presentation to the board of directors of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District on Thursday, Feb. 16 in Salmon Arm to explain the independent administrative tribunal’s mandate and mode of operation.

“Section 6 is the highest consideration,” she said of the section in the province’s Agricultural Act that sets out the commission’s purpose: ‘preserve agricultural land, encourage farming on agricultural land, encourage local governments, First Nations, the government and its agencies to accommodate farm use of agricultural land and uses compatible with agriculture in their plans, bylaws and policies.’

When looking at an application, commissioners have to consider not only Section 6, but, in descending order, economic, cultural and social values, regional and community planning objectives and “other prescribed considerations.”

She said applications are now considered at one of six regional panels where staff can interact directly with an applicant, make a site visit or ask for additional information.

Agri-tourism has been redefined. Under the changes, specific regulations are spelled out both for agri-tourism and events such as weddings, music festivals and events other than agri-tourism or family events/celebrations.

While CSRD South Shuswap director Paul Demenok deemed the improvements in agri-tourism to be “very progressive,” he had concerns about the definition of a farm being comprised of 60 acres and the need for some farms to run businesses on their land in order to survive.

“The South Shuswap is really surrounded by agricultural land, with no room for growing commercial lands, with a population largely under-served,” he said, noting another of his concerns.

Grout said commissioners know there is more work to be done and suggested a staff member could be made available to work with municipalities and regional districts.

“Discussions at the OCP (official community plan) level would be good to have… she said. “It would be a great opportunity for staff to work with OCPs and while OCPs have to be approved by the commission, staff is available for early-on talks.”

This raised a flag for Salmon Arm director Kevin Flynn, who pointed out what he sees as a conundrum in that the city may work hard with the community to develop an OCP, which must then be approved by the ALC.

“The process in my opinion is flawed because they rely on our OCP (in order to