Surrey council in a unanimous vote Monday supported moving 220 acres of “currently farmed” land in South Surrey into the Agricultural Land Reserve with one councillor, Linda Annis, saying it would be an “absolute crime” not to.
As for the bigger picture, the Agricultural Land Commission desires to move 304 acres of federally owned land there into the provincial ALR, with the 220 acres of it active farmland. Council also wants the balance of the 304 acres moved into the ALR, and kept intact.
Coun. Mike Bose, a fourth-generation Surrey farmer and former agricultural land commissioner, said a vote against this would be “a vote against food security in Western Canada.”
Bose said 85 per cent of all land removed from the ALR is removed by government for infrastructure, and “almost all is done without any compensation or mitigation.
“We’ve had a massive loss of productive agricultural land. This land is unique, it cannot be replaced anywhere in Canada and, I would argue, in North America. The only place you have land equal to this is in California, but we all know that California struggles with water.”
The land in question provides up to 75 per cent of the early vegetable market in Canada, Bose noted. “It produces enough food to feed all of Metro Vancouver for two weeks, more likely a month. This can’t be replaced.
“This land must be protected for our food security and the food security of our grandchildren in the future.”
The farmland, within the North Campbell Heights Local Area Plan, is bounded by 192 Street and 36 Avenue and leased to Heppell Farm, which has been producing potatoes, carrots, squash and cabbages for more than half a century.
Annis echoed Bose’s comments. “These 200 acres of very fertile agricultural land are amongst the most fertile in Western Canada, or Canada for that matter. They produce our very, very first root vegetables that we find in our grocery stores every spring, all throughout Canada. It’s the first field to come off with root vegetables.”
She noted 70,000 people have signed a petition in support of keeping this land. “It’s very, very valuable agricultural land, something that we can’t replace.”
Coun. Doug Elford noted that while the decision is ultimately not in Surrey council’s hands, “we can by speaking in favour of it certainly send a strong message out there as a council.”
Mayor Brenda Locke noted there is a “significant” portion of the land, 80 acres or so, that is treed on the north side that is included in the 304 acres.
“My concern is that the Right to Farm Act does not require anyone to come forward to ask about removal of those trees so in effect if we put that all in – and correct me if I’ve got this wrong – if we put this entirely into the ALR and that is all agricultural land, that entire area including the 80 acres could all be turned into farmland and cut down without application,” she said.
Bose remarked that there are many avenues Surrey can pursue to protect the treed area. “If the land is protected for farming use, there are avenues to protect that natural area.” He noted the northern portion is “very steep land and wouldn’t be farm-able anyway.”
According to a corporate report that came before council Monday, Surrey has 22,919 acres in the ALR, established by the province in 1973, and if the 304 acres are added in, this will increase Surrey’s total by 1.3 per cent. The report notes that Surrey’s farms support more than 3,300 jobs and produce over $167 million in sales.
On the flip side, the report indicates removing these lands from the Campbell Heights Land Use Plan will result in the potential shortfall of $53 million in Campbell Heights development cost charges, “resulting in inadequate funds to complete infrastructure upgrades.
“If these properties become a part of the ALR versus if these properties were to be zoned as Business Park resulting in a Class 6 (Business & Other) classification assigned by British Columbia Assessment, the potential municipal tax revenue loss is $4.0M based on 2022 land assessment,” the report states.
Locke told the Now-Leader on Tuesday the treed area is also critically important, being a “significant buffer between the farmland and industry and so we need to maintain that treed area as well.”
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