Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) board members slammed the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) over new land use rules, in a Sept. 5 meeting.
The directors expressed frustration and disappointment when Jason Llewellyn, Director of Planning told the board of directors that the ALC expects the RDBN to enforce the new rules, which most directors regard as burdensome.
At issue is a regulation announced earlier this year that limits fill deposits (soil or gravel) to 1,000 square metres in area if someone is building or maintaining a structure for farm use or for a main residence.
“If you’re developing an agricultural parcel with a house and a driveway and you bring in gravel to the building site in the driveway, you’re limited to a 150 metre-long driveway. Anything more you need Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) approval in order to bring that gravel in,” said Llewellyn.
“That’s not acceptable. There’s no way that we as a board are going to take the liability of enforcing that rule,” said Gerry Thiessen, RDBN board chairperson.
Llewellyn explained that if the fill exceeds 1,000 metres2, the individual must submit a Notice of Intent to the ALC, which has 60 days to assess the request. If more information is needed from the builder, the ALC can take another 60 days before making a decision.
“If you don’t want to wait through a 120-day long process to get an answer you can make a separate application process, which has an application fee of $1,500. A six metre-wide driveway could be 150 metres before you would be having trouble,” Llewellyn said.
In response, Clint Lambert, Electoral Area E Director denounced the policy as way for the ALC to “get another $1,500 to fix your driveway. I think the ultimate goal is to stop people building houses on their land.”
“So it’s our responsibility to go back and say ‘you weren’t allowed to build your driveway. So now you’re in non-compliance. So tell your contractor that we’ve given you a stop work order.’ For us to get involved in that and be the government’s face of bad news – they’re putting us in a really bad spot here,” Lambert said.
The regulation is rooted in the problem of illegal dumping in the Lower Mainland, as Llewellyn said.
“Farmers can make millions of dollars accepting construction waste to be dumped on their property. Another issue is, you get a five, 10 acre property with a mansion and a swimming pool and they’re trying to limit the scale of those types of developments in the ALR, largely in the Okanagan.”
In an email to Lakes District News, a Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson confirmed that “bringing fill into the ALR without first submitting a notice of intent with the ALC and receiving the CEO approval [or] obtaining the approval of a soil/fill use application by the ALC” is considered illegal dumping.
Answering the question as to what homeowners are supposed to do if they want to lengthen their driveway using fill that might exceed 1,000 m2, the spokesperson echoed Llewellyn, saying that a notice of intent must be submitted to the ALC and be approved.
“The ALC looks at many factors when carrying out its mandate and each application has its own distinct set of circumstances and is considered on its own merits.”
The spokesperson added that landowners in a first offence against the fill rule could face a fine of up to $1 million, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
“This law was strengthened to protect farmland in B.C., deter fill-dumping and help farmers farm,” said the spokesperson.
Telkwa mayor Brad Layton criticized the regulation saying “’one size fits all’ does not work” and said it’s a southern B.C. problem being imposed on the north.
“Can’t we just tell them ‘no’? I have a problem with it. The restrictions coming out of the ALR are hurting us in the north because of specific issues in the south. It is for lack of a better term BS. I don’t know what we’re legally allowed to do or say but we need to send a strong message,” Layton said.
Kim Grout, Chief Executive Officer of the ALC acknowledged to Lakes District News that the regulation is narrow.
“I’m sure it’s completely different from how people have operated historically. The government’s intention is to prohibit illegal and excessive fill. We’re trying to work with property owners to make it work,” she said.
The board of directors’ discussion on the issue ended without a resolution and a report from RDBN is expected to be brought back for the board’s future consideration.
“The board has plans to address this topic with the province at the Union of BC Municipalities convention [on Sept. 23-27], and based on the response, will be able to determine next steps,” said Curtis Helgesen, Chief Administrative Officer of the RDBN.