The changes include a moratorium on repeat applications to the ALC; increased funding and increased enforcement ability through shared resources; additional oversight of the chair over regional panels and the hiring of a CEO to handle administrative issues; upgraded information systems; and a new standard for the size of housing in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
“We want to make the ALC into a more proactive organization,” said McRae.
“We have been a very reactive organization. I would like to take us away from that and be one that works with others with the interest to put boundaries around the ALR and then allow us to get substantially out of the way and let communities develop with the proper thoughts and processes in place,” added Richard Bullock, chair of the ALC, who authored the report on the review of the Commission.
A five-year moratorium will be placed on repeat applications to the ALC for things such as exclusions from the ALR. McRae said this is to cut back on the 600 to over 1,000 applications the Commission receives in a year, and to ensure only well-researched applications are sent forward.
The Province will also provide an additional $1.6 million over the current and next fiscal years to provide the ALC with resources to transition to a more self-supporting operating model by 2013. McRae said changes to the ALC Act will allow the Commission to pursue additional revenues through changes to fee-for-service structures, though there are no specific changes being proposed at this time
“We don’t have any sort of preconceived conception of what those fees are going to be,” said McRae. “Nothing will happen without the ALC doing some work and some extensive consultations going forward.”
The Province will also expand the Commission’s enforcement abilities by allowing qualified officials from other government agencies and levels of government to conduct enforcement activities. The Minister said that could conceivably include community bylaw officers, though he said municipalities won’t be required to take on that responsibility. Bullock said he is confident the new resources for enforcement will allow for better follow-up on infractions such as illegal dumping in the ALR.
The recruitment of a chief executive officer (CEO) for the ALC is underway, and the new position is proposed in part to allow the chair to have greater oversight of regional panels to ensure fairness, transparency and consistency in the decision-making process. Bullock’s report actually recommends the dissolution of those regional panels, but McRae said he felt they were still important to the operations of the ALC.
“With the legislative changes, there is an opportunity to have regional differences respected, but at the same time making sure there is consistency and oversight by the chair,” he said. “To have these individuals having their geographic knowledge of their specific regions I think is valuable.”
“The legislative change that allows the chair to review decisions I think will go a long ways in terms of getting some consistency and getting the organization to work as a group,” added Bullock.
The Commission will undertake upgrading its online application tracking system to provide enhanced web services to clients. Bullock added one of his top priorities is also upgrading the ALC’s mapping capability with new technologies to ensure accurate maps of the ALR boundaries. He said the Peace region will be one of the areas where that will be a priority.
McRae said with the changes to the organizational structure of the ALC, his hope is that the Commission will now be able to look at the development pressures being put on farmland by growing communities in a more holistic way rather than reacting to applications for individual parcels.
“One of the things I see for communities here is they’re going to be able to engage the ALC in a more constructive manner,” he said. “I think the reality is the ALC will need to find that balance where they allow a community to grow, but at the same time protect that farmland, which I think we’re going to need more than ever going into the future.”
In perhaps one of the more controversial changes, a new minister's bylaw standard has been established to provide local governments with a model that restricts building large residential homes in the centre of ALR lots to ensure the majority of the land is preserved for agricultural use. The government maintains the new standard follows extensive consultation with local governments, agriculture producers, stakeholders and the general public, and McRae added it is not a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire province. More information on residential uses in the ALR can be found online at http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/sf/residential_uses_in_ALR_consultation/residential_uses_index.htm.
Mile 0 City will look to get reaction to these changes to the ALR from local stakeholders and post it online in the near future. The full language of the proposed legislative changes can be found online at http://www.leg.bc.ca/39th4th/1st_read/gov19-1.htm under Part Two of Bill 19. The ALC chair’s report has been attached below.