If you’re a BC farmer and despite your best efforts you don’t meet your farm plan, your land can’t be be reclassified as residential, according to a recent BC Supreme Court decision.
The story begins in 1991 when Bruce and Dorothy Kelt bought 4.94 acres of Class 1 – Residential property in Nanaimo, BC.
In 1997 the Kelts applied to BC Assessment to have their land classified as a farm. With their application, the Kelts included a farm development plan estimating annual revenue of at least $2,500 from a tree farm they were planting.
BC Assessment classified the Kelt’s property as “Class 9 – Farm” for 1998.
By 2001 the Kelt’s revenue was lower than the projected $2,500 and at BC Assessment’s request, the Kelts revised their farm development plan again estimating revenue of $2,500 but this time, by 2007.
The Kelts didn’t meet this target because their trees did poorly. BC Assessment reclassified the Kelt’s land to residential because sales were not $2,500 as required by the Classification of Land as a Farm Regulation, B.C. Reg. 411/95.
The Kelts complained to the Property Assessment Review Panel which hears property assessment complaints. This review panel recommended BC Assessment reclassify the property as a farm. BC Assessment complied.
The Kelts appealed this decision to the Property Assessment Appeal Board of BC, the second level of appeal for property assessments in British Columbia.
The Kelts appealed this decision to the BC Supreme Court and won.
She concluded that both the Act and the Farm Regulation are clear that BC Assessment must classify land as a farm where the requirements are met, but nowhere among these requirements is an owner required to follow or in fact meet the projected harvest date of a development plan.
While the case involves one small farm, many small farmers will see it as a game-changer setting a precedent for how BC Assessment classifies farmland.
When residential, commercial and industrial development occurs on or beside farmland and fields, we lose hedgerows, which may include blackberries and wild flowers, and wetlands including sloughs.
This takes away habitat and food sources for pollinator species such as insects, bees, birds and butterflies, as well as for frogs and bats.
Remaining wildlife also face a new problem. Once homes and commercial buildings are ready for occupancy, we’re seeing a disturbing trend in the South Slough area. New owners are over-lighting their property causing light pollution.
Light pollution is excessive use of artificial light. It includes unnecessary bright lights which trespass onto adjoining properties and cause glare and sky glow which brightens the night sky. The cause is poorly designed lighting and it’s harmful wildlife, humans and our climate.
Why do property owners install these types of lights?
Farm areas tend to be darker at night. Owners of homes and industrial parks alongside farms typically place excessive lighting on building exteriors believing this will stop crime.
Does it? No, the opposite is true and there is significant evidence to support this. Bright lights don’t prevent crime or accidents, they just cost a lot of money from wasted energy and they disturb the neighbours.
The South Slough area has a number of sloughs which are mosquito breeding grounds. West Nile virus has been found not far from here. This year there were far fewer bats and the diminishing number can’t all be explained by white nose syndrome.
The has serious consequences for us. In one summer season, a colony of 150 brown bats can eat 38,000 cucumber beetles, 16,000 June bugs, 19,000 stinkbugs and 50,000 leafhoppers, according to the BC Ministry of Environment.
Light pollution is also affecting our frog population in the sloughs and our bird population which both also eat mosquitoes and other insects. Excessive light alters their behavior, disrupting their migration and feeding habits.
Eagles used to nest in trees above the Woodward Slough. After a car with a speeding teenager drove into the slough, the City responded by installing bright flashing lights that operate 24 hours.
Farms attract rats and the eagles were the only reliable predators. Now they’re gone and we’re left with so many rats our vehicle wires are being chewed through.
- lowers the immune system;
- leads to an increase in disease – breast and prostate cancer, fetal abnormalities; and
- has a direct tie to increased levels of depression.
What is a solution?
The City should bring in a light pollution abatement bylaw which provides standards for lighting including shielded fixtures and downward aiming lights. Other local municipalities such as Delta and Saanich have implement bylaws.
In the long term, they save property owners and local governments money in energy costs, they lower our carbon footprint and they help bring back wildlife.
For my next blog I’m going to get outside and interview some locals. Action is the key according to Story Craft: the complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Jack Hart.
Two weeks ago, large trucks drove along the narrow, winding country road in our neighbourhood, turned into a south slough farm field and illegally dumped loads of construction waste on prime farmland at the end of No. 4 Road.
All three agencies visited the farm and the ALC confirmed the worst: the 24-acre farm, which had recently sold, was being used as an illegal dump site.
The ALC placed a “stop work” order on the farm because the fill was contravening the City Soil Removal and Deposit Activities on Agricultural Land Bylaw.
Contractors charge as much as $650 a truckload to haul construction waste. A large part of this goes to dump fees at landfills – and there are fewer landfills that will take construction waste.
Local farmers estimate that tenants or new owners would have likely gotten about $200 a truckload, which adds up to tens of thousands of dollars for filling a field with construction waste and then covering it over with dirt.
This isn’t the first time this has happened in our neighbourhood and it’s just one of many examples of increasing urban encroachment on farmland.
In the last 30 years Metro Vancouver’s population has increased 70 per cent to 2,470,289 from 1,445,939 in a land-constrained area with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the North Short Mountains and the U.S. border to the south.
Residents and newcomers have headed east to more rural areas or to Richmond, just 20 minutes south on Lulu Island.
Here, we’ve seen fertile farm fields alongside Fraser River estuaries paved over for large-lot detached residential sub-divisions, massive strip malls, car dealerships, industrial parks, gravel pits, commercial nurseries, soil fill operations, parking lots, golf courses, churches and temples, and highways.
Farmland has also been developed at a blistering pace into agri-businesses such as horse boarding and training facilities, pet breeding, kennels, wineries and bed and breakfasts.
Province-wide, farmland was classified into seven categories using the Land Capability Classification for Agriculture in British Columbia and soil in the South Slough neighbourhood is class 1 and 2, the most productive with the best climate.
Although Richmond updated its Official Community Plan in 2012, and the mayor and council place a high value on protecting the City’s farmlands which supply locally grown food, other levels of government aren’t getting the message.
The federal Port Metro Vancouver has bought up fields for future industrial use, and the federal government plans to build a fuel line alongside farm fields, while the province is building a new 10-lane bridge on fields which grow berries, grapes and corn.
Investors and speculators continue see the ALR as a land bank for residential and industrial development and exert pressure on politicians and their staff. If they manage to get land out of the ALR, they make a windfall.
If they don’t, they build mansions on large parcels and then don’t farm the rest, paying taxes as though it was resident land.
If they buy smaller parcels, they claim it can’t be successfully farmed, even when there is ample proof from farmers such as Curtis Stone who teaches how to make $100,000 a year farming as little as half an acre.
Organizations which have land removed from the ALR for institutional uses such as churches and temples are supposed to farm part of it, but often don’t.
Here we produce only 45 per cent of our food, although we have the highest capacity farmland and it contributes billions of dollars in revenue to Richmond’s economy, with each farm earning an average of $228,000 each year.
There is reason for some optimism. In partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Richmond now has a farm school, and graduates are knocking on doors looking for land to farm. Instructors are also farming – showing it’s possible to succeed on smaller parcels of land.
In the meantime, residents of farm neighbourhoods and organizations such as the Garden City Conservation Society have their eyes open and their phones handy to report non-farm uses. Urbanization pressures will only intensify due to ongoing population growth.
This morning I met Jake Fry who owns Smallworks, a builder of beautiful small homes – laneway and cottage homes.
Here are photos of a laneway home being built.