The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) will allow a proposed 145-unit hotel on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) next to the Sechelt golf course because it is consistent with an application that was approved in 2006 — even though that decision was later described as “flawed” in a University of Victoria case study.
“The Sechelt rezoning is their business,” ALC regional planner Tony Pellett said Tuesday of the District of Sechelt’s rezoning process, “but our approval will stand.”
The ALC notified the District of Sechelt in late January that the proposed hotel could go ahead under the 2006 approval for a 64-room “stay and play” hotel that was later changed to allow a maximum of 100 rooms on the 0.8-hectare site.
“The commission understands that the current proposal differs from the previous proposals in that it would initially accommodate 145 rooms with a long-term maximum of 200 units, and the footprint is expected to be reduced by building to four storeys instead of the original two storeys,” ALC executive director Colin Fry said in a Jan. 29 letter to the District. “As with the 2006 proposal, the commission agrees that, with a reduced footprint, the current proposal is still consistent with the intent of [the original decision].”
Although the development approved in 2006 did not go forward, the ALC’s decision to allow it was cited later that year as one of four decisions “that vividly illustrate the weakness” of farmland protection under the ALC’s regional panel system.
“In each of these decisions a regional panel allowed an exclusion or non-farm use on ALR land with questionable justification,” said the report, authored by Ryan Green of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria on behalf of the Agricultural Land Reserve Protection and Enhancement Committee.
Calling the Sechelt decision “particularly egregious,” the report said the South Coast panel ignored ALC staff’s concerns, arguing that the housing units’ modular construction meant they could be removed with relative ease.
That argument, said the report, was unconvincing.
“As noted by ALC staff, the existence of dwellings on a golf course significantly reduces the likelihood that the land will ever be reclaimed for agriculture.”
The decision was also criticized for opening the door to other applications that would see buildings constructed on ALR golf courses, increasing the pressure on regional panels to approve them.
The original decision also led to its “first unforeseen consequence” a few months later when the country club requested 36 additional housing units because the 64-unit complex was not financially viable.
The club, said the report, “claimed the newly proposed units would not further impact agriculture, as expansion would be achieved by adding two additional floors to the approved buildings. As difficult as it is to imagine a two-storey complex being removed from agricultural land, the potential removal of a four-storey complex stretches credibility to its limits.”
The report said it was “alarming” that the regional panel approved a development that was not economically viable, while the application for expansion soon after the original decision “illustrates how an ALC approval can encourage developers to request further concessions from the ALC.”
About one year after the report was released, the ALC shifted decision-making powers away from regional panels, but that policy was reversed on May 29 with the passage of Bill 24.
Owen Wang, the new owner of the Sechelt Golf and Country Club, has said the hotel will be part of the Lamborghini hotel and resort chain and he hopes to break ground on the project this fall.
© Coast Reporter