A provincial report proposing to diversify housing options in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) has drawn some initial praise from Central Saanich, with North Saanich striking a more cautious tone.
“We’re pleased to see progress toward greater flexibility in supporting agricultural businesses with desperately needed accommodations for workers,” said Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor. “[This] is a positive step, with more work still to be done.”
Rebecca Penz, North Saanich’s communication manager, said staff have done an initial review of its bylaws relative to the proposed policy direction to increase residential flexibility within the Agricultural Land Reserve by allowing a small secondary residence on properties.
“If the [Province’s] proposed policy becomes regulation, the District may consider amending its bylaws to allow a broader residential use in guest cottages and to support other forms of small secondary residences such as a carriage houses and manufactured homes,” she said. North Saanich’s current zoning bylaw only supports a guest cottage for farm worker housing subject to approval by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
These comments come after Lana Popham, minister of agriculture and MLA for Saanich South, announced the provincial government is considering changes to housing in the ALR in releasing a report spelling out its proposed policy direction. “The proposed changes, if implemented, would provide additional residential flexibility in the ALR,” said Popham. Under the proposal, a small secondary residence would be available for farm workers, family members or anyone else, provided there is local government approval.
Current provisions limit secondary residences to manufactured homes, or to immediate family members, or as part of a farming plan.
By way of background, farmers always had the option of building additional residence in the ALR provided they are needed for farming and they have approval from both local government and the ALC, with the latter routinely providing approval for farming purposes. Under the current wording of the proposal, applicants would not require approval from the ALC prior to building a “small secondary residence” for non-farm use, a move that promises to cut bureaucracy but also create variability in terms of what a “small secondary residence” might look like.
Likely mindful of this possibility, the provincial government said it will give consideration to the following criteria (among others) in defining small secondary residences as manufactured homes on concrete slabs no wider than nine metres and no longer than 22.86 metres: garden suites; guest houses or carriage suites no larger than 90 square-metres in area; accommodations above existing buildings subject to various conditions; and permitting construction of principal residences in addition to manufactured homes initially placed on properties as principal residences.
Of note is the possibility that the Province may develop language that would limit total residential space on a single ALR parcel to no more than 500 square-metres when additional residential space is added to principal residences. This language, if included in the final legislation, aims to buttress new legislation passed earlier designed to limit the size of primary residences and restrict the removal of soil, while increasing penalties for dumping of construction debris and other harmful fill.
The provincial government has said that nothing in its report is final, with a technical committee reviewing and refining the proposed direction until April 17 in preparation for potential recommendations. The proposed direction has already received support from other municipalities with large swaths of land in the ALR. Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes, whose community has been pushing for some time to expand housing options, praised the direction.
“This proposed change would benefit Saanich residents who live or farm in the ALR because it creates more options for residences, while maintaining strong protections for farmland,” he said.
Interested parties who would like more information on this process, or who want to provide feedback for policy consideration, should contact ALR_ALCRevitalization@gov.bc.ca, write the ministry at PO Box 9043 Victoria, B.C. V8W 9E2, or call the AgriServiceBC line at 1 888 221-7141.
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