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Richmond's bid to tighten farm rules gets 'complicated'
Questions swirling around the city's possible role in regulating activities on farmland have proven to have no simple answers, city council learned Monday.
"I think there's a lot of different facets to this. (It's) a very complicated issue—far more complicated than I expected it was," said Mayor Malcolm Brodie at a committee meeting at city hall.
In January council gave preliminary approval to bylaw changes requiring permits for soil removal and fill projects on Agricultural Land Reserve property.
The new regulations were set to move to the next stage Monday, but after hearing numerous concerns from council, the mayor called for further review.
The province supports the changes, according to staff, but a majority vote from council is also needed.
A fill project at 9360 Finn Rd. prompted the city to look at tightening rules for farmland in the face of an "underfunded, understaffed" regulator in the Agricultural Land Commission, according to Brodie.
Council must now decide whether it wants to enter into an agreement with the commission that would give the city greater control over the approval of certain fill applications.
But Phyllis Carlyle, the city's general manager of law and community safety, cautioned that the city wouldn't replace the commission, and it could come at a cost of $233,063 to the city in staffing.
"We would be assuming the cost. As well, our city staff would not be free to deviate from policies of the (land commission)," she said. "It would be as if we were one of their employees."
Council will have to decide whether it wants to begin monitoring the activities on farmland more closely through new bylaws—but with the understanding there's only a certain amount of control it will have.
"You won't be able to control all of it, because the (commission) has said 'No, if it's farm use, that's our jurisdiction and we're not giving it up,'" said Carlyle. "You will not get the whole pie—you're going to get part of the pie, but it may not be sufficient."
But Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt said she didn't even ask for the piece of pie council has been given. She said the biggest issue is fill activity on farmland that's deemed farm use—an activity council couldn't stop if it's sanctioned by the Agricultural Land Commission. That's what happened at Finn Road, where protesters took issue with the construction of a wide access road built with recycled concrete, but the commission ruled it's an acceptable farm use.
"So we're dealing with an issue that we didn't bring to the table to begin with," she said. "I'm frustrated, I know what we want to do, and I know we cannot do it."
Coun. Harold Steves said he wants to see the city get tough with people depositing illegal fill on farmland—whether it's for farm use or non-farm use.
"The buck has to stop somewhere and if the land commission isn't going to do it, then we have to do it."
Also Monday council decided to urge Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Agriculture Pat Pimm to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission, which is part of the province's current core review of programs and services.
In a letter, council is asking the province to "protect, enhance, adequately fund and enforce" the land reserve, the commission and its policies.
Nearly 40 per cent of Richmond is locked in the reserve.