Two community groups made their pitch Thursday to the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee to have the BX Ranchlands property turned into an agricultural park.
The BX Ranchlands Task Force and the BX/Swan Lake Community Association, backed by a supportive petition with more than 1,300 signatures, are advocating the historic 137-acre site be preserved as a working farm, habitat conservation area and a focal point to both celebrate and raise awareness through public education initiatives of agriculture’s significance to the area.
Paul Williamson, a BX Ranchlands Task Force member, said the agricultural park concept exists in other B.C. communities such as Saanich, Salt Spring Island, Pemberton and most recently the Ceres Circle Farm in Kelowna, a 37-acre sheep farm gifted by its owner and currently under transition to a land trust.
Besides preserving historic farmlands, Williamson said those initiatives have found ways to generate revenue from tourism and access to public land use and agriculture programs.
“It takes vision and people to make a change in our community,” Williamson said. “We are at a pivotal point in the history of the last remaining piece of the BX Ranchlands.”
Agrologist Melanie Piorecky told the advisory committee the agricultural park concept complements the food sustainability objectives for the area while providing the opportunity to create incubator farm plots, community gardens, post-secondary agrology research programs and a dedicated location for a farmers’ market.
She said the habitat enhancement aspect would help preserve the wetlands portion of the BX Ranchlands already exposed to impact from a neighbouring residential development.
The BX future land use has been disputed at times since the land parcel was purchased in 2016 for $2.3 million, with the idea being 36 acres could be kept as park and the remainder sold for development to recoup the land investment costs.
The 37-acre linear park between BX Ranch, Mutrie and East Vernon roads, is moving forward and will become a park accessible to the public by the spring.
But the land still remains within the Agricultural Land Reserve, something the BX Ranchlands Task Force and BX/Swan Lake Community Association don’t want to see changed.
The Regional District of North Okanagan board has already approved the rezoning of the BX Ranchlands from country residential to large holding, which means the land would be agricultural and residential subdivision development would not be allowed unless there was a further rezoning process considered by the regional district.