Changes to rules regarding residences on Agricultural Land Reserve properties are expected to significantly impact North Okanagan farms. (Black Press - file photo)

‘This is a huge issue’: ALC changes will affect North Okanagan farms

Changes to residence rules on ALR property to have significant impact warns RDNO

Changes to rules regarding residences on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) properties will have a significant impact on North Okanagan municipalities.

Regional District of North Okanagan general manager of planning and building Rob Smailes told directors at their regular meeting Wednesday that the changes made by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to its ALC Act, highlighted in a pair of reports totalling 21 pages, “affects each and every one of you in your own municipalities.”

“This is going to be significant,” said Smailes. “We’ve already had people at the front counter come talk to us about this.”

Changes were implemented effective Feb. 22.

RELATED: B.C. tightening rules for farmland reserve exclusion applications

Smailes told directors in terms of a principal residence on ALR property, owners are not allowed to have a building greater than 500 meters squared, or 5,300 square feet, without approval from the ALC.

The main concern for planning departments, he said, concern additional residences on the property. It’s a venue and mechanism the RDNO has used for years to allow multi-generational farms to stay together for families and farm help.

“It’s a source of affordable housing in rural areas, it’s one of our solutions for affordable housing,” said Smailes. “They’ve eliminated that. Now, you can only have a secondary suite in an existing house.”

Also removed are provisions put in last year for a detached suite above an accessory shop or barn, as well as a manufactured home for a family on ALR properties.

RELATED: Legislation to protect B.C. farmland comes into effect

Smailes said for those who have a residence bigger than 500 meters squared, they have to have had their building permit in place before Feb. 22. Residences under construction also have to have a permit listed before Feb. 22. If one of the structures ever gets lost to fire, said Smailes, there will be right to rebuild it.

Changes have also been made to tourist accommodations on ALR land.

“We’ve made a number of changes to our regulations over the years to allow for agri-tourism accommodation facilities, usually small cabins or campsites on a working farm,” said Smailes. “Now, what they’ve said is, it’s only allowed to be a bed and breakfast in the principle residence.”

Smailes said the matter is under discussion with the Electoral Area Advisory Committee.

Spallumcheen director Christine Fraser, the township’s mayor, said the news didn’t go over well with more than 30 farmers from the township who attended a meeting with ALC executives to discuss the changes.

“Most of the farmers said the ALC wasn’t supporting farming,” said Fraser. “They said the changes being made now and quickly coming into play are not supporting the farmer. They’re regulating them to the point they won’t be able to farm now.”

Vernon director Victor Cumming, the city’s mayor, said, “Once again we’re caught with agriculture regulations provincewide that really are related to peri-urban areas. This is a huge issue…Getting all of these regulations that don’t apply to a 200-acre working farm in Spallumcheen doesn’t make sense.”

Directors were also baffled by a change in the regulations that caps the number of horses allowed to be boarded at a farm at 80.

The regional district voted unanimously to send a carefully crafted letter to the ALC expressing disappointment over the changes.

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