Local governments are usually the first point of contact when someone makes an application under the Agricultural Land Commission Act (the "ALC Act"). They receive and review the application and supporting documents, on which basis staff prepare a report. The municipal council or regional board then decide whether to forward the application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for decision. Local governments provide information to the ALC related to land use planning and zoning bylaws, and provide comments specific to each application.
The ALC Act, Sections 25(3) and 30(4), provides that local government must authorize an application to be forwarded to the ALC if the application involves land that is zoned for agricultural or farm use or requires an amendment to a plan or bylaw. If a proposal is contrary to local land use planning, local governments have the authority to stop applications from proceeding to the ALC.
A growing number of municipalities and regional districts are appointing Agricultural Advisory Committees (AACs) to provide a direct link to their farm and ranch communities. These committees, generally comprised of members from the local farming and ranching community, provide valuable advice and expertise, informed by local knowledge on a wide range of agricultural issues. Where AACs exist, local governments usually forward ALC applications to the AAC for review. The AAC then provides advice for consideration by the municipal council or regional board.
Consultation on Land Use Plans and Bylaws
Consultation is central to any effort to ensure consistent policies and regulations dealing with agriculture and related issues in the ALR. Prior to creation of the ALR, local government had almost exclusive authority over the use of privately held agricultural land. The Land Commission Act of 1973 established primacy of the ALC over most other provincial legislation in the managing of land use within the ALR. However, local government planning and zoning powers have never been removed or replaced. Both the ALC and local governments have legitimate regulatory authority over ALR land. This reaffirms the need for on-going consultation between the ALC and local governments.
It is important to involve the ALC in any planning that affects agricultural land uses – not just community plans and land use bylaws, but also recreation plans, transportation plans, water use policies, etc. Early consultation helps to identify and resolve potential problems and provides opportunities for suggestions that can benefit the overall process and assist the agricultural industry.
The framework for land use planning and the protection of resource lands commences at the growth strategy stage. Therefore, unless the planning area has very little ALR, local governments contemplating growth strategy processes should liaise with the ALC and the Ministry of Agriculture (the "Ministry") at an early stage. The ALC and the Ministry should also be notified early on when growth strategy technical working groups or steering committees are working on issues specific to agriculture.
Official Community Plans (OCPs)
The Local Government Act specifies that all official community plans for areas containing ALR lands must be referred to the ALC. The process for involving the ALC and the Ministry differs for each area of BC according to the issues and location of each local government.
With respect to agricultural issues, local governments may wish to consider including policies for the maintenance and enhancement of farming and development permit areas for the protection of farming as provided for in the Local Government Act. Useful references include Planning for Agriculture.
The Local Government Act strategic and consultation guidelines are designed to improve communications between local governments and provincial ministries. The ALC sees these guidelines as complementing its own processes, and as such offers the following for additional direction:
- Consultation relating to agricultural issues should usually involve both the ALC and Ministry. Both members of the Agri-Team should be contacted.
- Initial consultation should occur early in the planning process, usually with a letter to both Agri-Team members. ALC and Ministry officials are most likely to attend initial meetings to gain an understanding of the issues and perspectives of the various stakeholders. Attendance at subsequent meetings will depend on the issues and the availability of staff. Agri-Team members may alternate when resources do not permit both members to attend.
- The first draft of an official community plan should be submitted for comment as early as possible – preferably before first reading – so issues can be identified, discussed and resolved. The ALC may become involved at this stage, particularly if there are still issues of concern when an official community plan is formally referred to the ALC after first reading.
- Local government should avoid referring any bylaw to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development that contains provisions to which the ALC objects.
Land Use Bylaws
While there is no statutory requirement to refer land use bylaws to the ALC, the Agricultural Land Commission Act requires that these bylaws be consistent with the ALC Act. In addition, Section 903 (5) of the Local Government Act requires that bylaws not restrict the use of land for a farm business, unless approved by the Minister of Agriculture. Accordingly, it is prudent to inform both the ALC and the Ministry early of any land use bylaw amendments affecting agricultural land. The Ministry Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas provides a useful set of standards for ALR-related bylaw amendments. It is suggested that the Minister of Agriculture’s approval be sought with respect to any bylaw provisions that may prohibit or restrict the use of farm land. Such approval, where appropriate, allows farm bylaws to serve instead of the intensive agriculture provisions of the Local Government Act, Section 915.
The Local Government Act (Sections 917 and 918) empowers local government to prepare farm bylaws that enhance land use compatibility and help resolve farming-related issues that are difficult to regulate with conventional land use bylaw provisions. As all farm bylaws must be approved by the Minister of Agriculture, the Ministry – and the local agricultural community – should be involved in its development. The Ministry strongly encourages that farm bylaws be developed in conjunction with overall land-use bylaw reviews to ensure that the most appropriate bylaw is used in a given situation. Initial contact can be made through the Ministry Agri-Team member; other Ministry specialists may become involved later in the process.
Agricultural Area Plans
An increasing number of local governments are undertaking agricultural area plans. These plans provide a mechanism for identifying and dealing with farming issues and for developing policies that support the industry and improve land-use compatibility and long-term agricultural sustainability. Municipal councils and regional boards generally ensure broad representation from the local farming community among appointees to steering committees that help develop agricultural area plans. It is also common for the ALC and Ministry (usually the Agri-Team) to serve on, or advise, these steering committees. The Ministry’s Sustainable Agriculture Management Branch can also provide advice and reference material.
For detailed information regarding agricultural area plans, refer to Chapter 7 of Planning for Agriculture Resource Material (Part 2), or the Ministry’s Agricultural Area Plans page. For information on current local government agricultural area plans, refer to the Ministry’s Status of Agricultural Area Plans and Strategies page.
Various other bylaws and planning processes can have an impact on farming. Examples include those relating to waste management, composting, animal control, burning, soil removal and deposition. The ALC relies on local governments to advise of work commencing on these other forms of bylaws and processes so the ALC can provide early input and determine if greater involvement is required.
ALC and Local Governments
To assist local governments in land use planning involving ALR lands, the ALC can provide:
- Information on the location of ALR boundaries
- History of ALC decisions and information on relevant studies, including past ALR boundary reviews
- Experience drawn from working in similar processes in other areas
- New ALR boundary reviews, if applicable
- ALC land use planning staff for consultation, informal and formal
- An opportunity for local elected officials to meet with Commissioners
- Publications that provide guidance on achieving consistency between plans, bylaws and the reserves.