ALR exclusions deserve attention

An issue currently flying under the radar screen for many Langley residents is exclusion of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Two recent approvals have at least one councillor, Councillor Charlie Fox, worried. He believes that they may be the tip of the iceberg and there may be many more requests for exclusion, particularly in the area generally known as the Salmon River uplands.

One approval is for 19 acres at the top of the 56 Avenue hill near 238 Street, while another relates to the 77-acre former Tuscan Gardens property on the east side of the Salmon River, a short distance away.

It is important to keep several factors in mind. One is that the Agricultural Land Reserve was never meant to be a “forever” freeze on all parcels that were initially included when it was instituted in 1973.

The parcels of land put into the ALR at the time were mainly active farms, or properties near other active farms, and zoned for agriculture.

The Salmon River uplands at that time had many active farms, but it also had been earmarked for future development. Some small-scale development had already taken place at the time of the creation of the ALR.

The property at 238 Street and 56 Avenue was originally zoned for one-acre lots — before the ALR. It has been used for gravel extraction, and while Christmas trees have been grown on the property, its soil-based agricultural potential is limited.

Tuscan Farms, on the other hand, has been an active working farm, and its exclusion from the ALR is puzzling.

Another factor to keep in mind is that concerns relating to the Hopington Aquifer in this area are overstated, as long as subdivided properties are hooked up to the new water line that will run along the 52 Avenue alignment.  While it is important that water continues to be drawn from the aquifer and recirculate back into the ground, plenty of homes and farms will still be drawing from the aquifer.

Perhaps the most important factor relating to these two applications, and many applications asking permission to dump soil on farm land, is that they are driven by the inflated real estate market.

While housing prices have fallen by an average 34 per cent in the U.S. and are stable in many parts of Canada, they continue to go up in the Lower Mainland.  This makes any piece of land with even a hint of subdivision potential worth its weight in gold, and it also means a high demand for sites where fill from excavations for new homes can be dumped. Enter Langley’s rural areas, on both counts.

The purpose of the ALR in the first place was to take subdivision pressure off good farm land, ensuring that there would be enough land in the future to provide for a portion of B.C.’s food demands. It was also to allow decision-makers the luxury of thinking about the distant future, and not just the immediate future, when making land use decisions.

One unintended consequence when it came in was that land prices outside the ALR almost doubled in a short time. There needs to be careful consideration of just how today’s booming real estate economy affects ALR lands.

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