Neighbours resist ALR exclusion application

Directors at the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) are asking a landowner who wants to remove property form the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to return to the drawing board.

The SCRD planning committee heard July 11 from both sides in a dispute over whether part of a 40-hectare property on Jensen Road off Port Mellon Highway, which abuts a subdivision off YMCA Road, should be removed from the ALR and a different section added.

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According to SCRD mapping and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), the property is part of the ALR, save for a 0.3 hectare portion in the middle of the north property line. But applicant David Morgan told the committee that 0.3 section is actually 1.16 hectares, based on BC assessment records and a 1981 BC land survey. He wants that section added to the ALR and to exclude an equally sized portion on the northeast corner of the parcel – which edges up against Newman Road in the YMCA subdivision.

“The intent of the proposal is to consolidate the farm parcel into one contiguous land mass, so that the potential conflict by the non-ALR area can be removed and land use efficiency of the farm parcel can be improved,” according to an SCRD staff report. The report recommended endorsing Morgan’s application to the ALC, as long as the applicant verifies the size of the non-ALR piece, and proves the land chosen for exclusion is unsuitable for agriculture.

But neighbouring residents, including Matthew Marquette, who made his case to directors, oppose the swap.

Sitting next to David Morgan, who was there to defend his application to the ALC, Marquette explained why. “We can’t afford to lose any ALR land and switching one parcel for anther is not acceptable,” he told directors. “The application implies this land adjacent to Newman Road is not suitable for agriculture. That doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for farming,” said Marquette. He also argued Morgan didn’t do enough to alert the community. Another concern was that Morgan is the chair of the SCRD’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, which would have reviewed the application. Marquette called that connection “unsettling,” and that it “only increases the level of concern this community has to the optics of this process.”

Morgan defended his ALC application, first by explaining that he recused himself from AAC meetings where the application was discussed. He said that’s also why he wasn’t aware of a petition, since it also came up at the meeting. He also alluded to misinformation being circulated in the community about plans to develop the adjacent land.

He said the land he wants to swap out is actually higher quality, and he wants to subdivide the section near Newman Road so that he can build a home for his daughter, and an equestrian centre.

West Howe Sound director Mark Hiltz said he believed the application was incomplete and required more information, and recommended returning the application for editing. “My reading of the application is that there are sections missing, the land use, the sketch plan,” said Hiltz, calling it a “cart before the horse.”

“Our role as a local government is to get that information sorted out before we make a decision.”

Sechelt director Darnelda Siegers asked whether they were allowed to ask an applicant to resubmit, since the application is a referral to the SCRD from the ALC.

Hiltz said it was possible, according to ALC procedure.  “This is one of the options local governments have,” he said. “We could actually refuse this and not have it proceed, but in terms of transparency and collaboration, I think it’s best for the community and the applicant to have a chance to put the best information forward so we can all understand,” Hiltz said.

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