Frequently Asked Questions
These legislative changes are an important step in meeting the Minister of Agriculture’s mandate direction from the Premier to revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission.
The changes address three critical issues impacting the ALR:
- Ending the proliferation of large mansions and lifestyle estates in the ALR which inflate land prices and place agricultural land out of the reach of current and new farmers and ranchers
- Ending the dumping of illegal fill in the ALR through clear, stringent rules that ensure the ALC has the necessary information and enforcement tools to monitor and ensure compliance with limits on fill placement and soil removal in the ALR
- Ending the ‘two-zone’ artificial separation of the ALR for improved decision making and protection of this vital provincial land reserve across the province for the benefit of agricultural production
The purpose of the amendments is to do exactly that, dampen speculation of buyers intending to purchase ALR land for non-farm purposes including large mansions and lifestyle estates. Setting provincial rules for house size and number of residences in the ALR sends a clear Government message that the ALR is for agriculture first, with farming and ranching as the key priority.
Speculation of ALR land and the building of large mansions and lifestyle estates can lead to significantly inflated farmland prices that prevent new, often younger farmers from entering farming or ranching and decreases the incentives for currently active farmers to keep farming.
Legislative Changes Respecting Residential Uses
One of the key changes is the new oversight role of the ALC for residential use and structures on ALR land. Where a landowner seeks to exceed a new residential ‘limit’ in the ALR, such as more than two residences on a parcel, or a larger principal residence than the maximum, they must apply to the ALC for approval. The process would still include an initial application to the local government. The local government would forward to the ALC any application for a ‘non-adhering’ residential use, for ALC review and approval.
The changes will impact some ALR landowners and those intending to purchase ALR land. Those intending to build large mansions or lifestyle estates in the ALR will be impacted by new limits on house size. The amendments limit the total floor area for a principal residence to a maximum of 500m2, 90m2 for the additional residence on a property less than 40 ha, and 186m2 for the additional residence on a property larger than 40 ha. Local government zoning bylaws may establish restrictions greater than the provincial maximum (i.e., set a maximum total floor area below 500m2 or not permit an additional residence) should a local government choose to do so.
A landowner must submit a Non-Adhering Residential Use (NARU) application for a third or more residence. However, under the Agricultural Land Commission Act, the ALC must not grant permission for such a residence unless it is necessary for a farm use.
The maximum house size (total floor area) of 500 m2 has been included in the Minister of Agriculture’s Bylaw Standards since 2011 (Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas). This ‘total floor area’ recommended standard was developed through extensive consultation involving local governments on an appropriate maximum principal residence size.
“total floor area” means, for purposes of the ALCA and ALR Use Regulation and pursuant to Commission Resolution No. 056N-2019, the total area of all floors measured to the outer surface of the exterior walls, including corridors, hallways, landings, foyers, staircases, stairwells, enclosed balconies, enclosed porches or verandas, and excluding:
(a) attached garages and unenclosed carports to a cumulative maximum of 42 square metres; (b) basements that do not end beyond the outer surface of the exterior wall of the first floor, with basement meaning that portion of any floor area having more than one‐half its vertical height below the average finished grade at the perimeter of a building; (c) attics, with attic meaning the unfinished space between the roof and the ceiling of the top storey of a building or between a partial wall and a sloping roof.
The ALC’s definition for total floor area (TFA) of the additional 90 or 186 m2 residence permitted in the ALR Use Regulation (where permitted by local government bylaw or First Nation Government law), is measured to the outer surface of exterior walls including corridors, hallways, landings, foyers, staircases, stairwells, enclosed balconies, enclosed porches or verandas, basements, and attached garages as part of the TFA unless the additional residence occupies the second storey above a one storey garage or is contained within a permitted building, and excludes attics with attic meaning the unfinished space between the roof and ceiling of the top storey of a building or between a partial wall and a sloping roof
The additional residence may be used for farm worker accommodation. Only one additional residence is permitted, so it cannot be divided up into multiple separate units or suites which would constitute multiple residences. As in other cases, the additional residence must also be permitted by the local government or First Nation Government.
Additional dwellings beyond the principal and additional residence for farm use (‘additional residences’) such as a third dwelling to house farm workers are allowed under the changes to the Act, if necessary for farm help, through application to the ALC. The applications will still be reviewed by local governments first to determine if they fit within local government bylaws and planning priorities. If they do, local government approval is required prior to the local government forwarding the application to the ALC for decision.
The ALC has a long history of considering applications for additional dwellings in the ALR where local governments have asked ALC to make the determination on whether or not the requested residential use is “necessary” for farm purposes. Between April 1, 2013 and February 15, 2019, the ALC approved 34 applications for additional dwellings for farm use and in all cases considered whether:
- the request was warranted given the scale of the agricultural operations occurring on the property;
- the size of the residence was reasonable for the farm help requested; and
- the siting of the residence(s) minimized the impacts on the land available for farming.
Information on the kinds of questions the Commission may consider when reviewing applications can be found on the ALC’s website at https://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/alc/content/applications-and-decisions/what-the-commission-considers.
Public and stakeholder concerns have been raised increasingly about the greatly expanded residential uses of ALR land and the creation of lifestyle estates that include construction of numerous buildings and structures for residential use and recreation, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, helicopter landing pads, multi-car garages, etc.
If a proposed accessory residential use doesn’t fit within the 1,000 m2exemption area provided for the removal of soil or placement of fill for a principal residence in Part 5 of the ALR Use Regulation then a Notice of Intent to construct these uses is required before construction can commence. (See Soil and Fill section below for more information)
Yes, provided the alteration reduces or at least doesn’t worsen any pre-existing contravention of the ALCA or the regulations.
An application is required to replace an existing principal residence in excess of 90/186 m2 if the property owner wishes to keep the existing residence during construction or retain the residence for family members or farm labour after construction of the new dwelling.
An application is required to replace an existing additional residence that was not previously approved by the Commission. Whether an application is required to replace an existing additional residence that the Commission previously approved through application depends on the terms of the approval.
Local governments will now receive ALC applications for residential construction in the ALR. Where an application is for a non-adhering residential use under the Act, such as a house larger than 500 m2, the local government must forward the application to the ALC for decision. Local government bylaws can ‘meet or beat’ this new provincial maximum to further preserve and protect the agricultural value of the ALR.
Some local governments already have bylaws restricting house size well below the new provincial maximum, while others exceed it, or have no current restrictions at all. Establishing a maximum house size in the Act provides strong and clear provincial direction while supporting local governments to set stricter requirements for protecting the ALR within their boundaries.
Fill and Soil
The changes create a new requirement for landowners to submit a Notice of Intent to the ALC prior to proceeding with the introduction of any fill to the ALR. This enhanced oversight will be balanced with exemptions for farmers and ranchers that bring fill onto their parcels as part of their regular maintenance and farm operations. Exemption details can be found in the new ALR Use Regulation and in Info Bulletin 07 Soil and Fill Uses in the ALR.
The changes also make it an offense to place any of the following prohibited materials as fill in the ALR: (a) construction or demolition waste, including masonry rubble, concrete, cement, rebar, drywall and wood waste; (b) asphalt; (c) glass; (d) synthetic polymers (e.g., plastic); (e) treated wood; and (f) unchipped lumber.
Please note that there are NO soil and fill provisions in the legislation for the additional residence. This means that it is likely that most, if not all, additional residences will require the submission of a Notice of Intent (NOI) application to the ALC before a local government issues a building permit. The application fee is $150 and is submitted on the ALC’s application portal.
Fill placement or removal of soil or aggregate is permitted for the construction or maintenance of a principal residence if the total area from which soil or aggregate is removed or on which fill is placed is 1,000 m2 or less.
Removing soil or aggregate from, or placing fill on, ALR land in connection with other residential uses (such as for the construction of an additional residence, or the construction of accessory residential buildings, driveways, lawns and landscaping associated with the principal residence the exceeds the 1,000m2 condition) is not permitted.
A landowner seeking to remove soil or aggregate or place fill that exceeds the 1,000 m2 condition may submit a Notice of Intent along with payment of the required fee. The landowner may also apply to the Commission through a Soil or Fill Use Application under s. 25 of the ALCA. Prohibited Fill is not permitted for the construction or maintenance of any residential uses.
For more information on soil and fill uses in the ALR please refer to the ALC Information Bulletin No. 7 on the ALC website at https://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/assets/alc/assets/legislation-and-regulation/information-bulletins/information_bulletin_07_-_soil_or_fill_uses_in_the_alr.pdf
The changes include the ALC collecting a new administrative fee prescribed in Regulation, when a person submits a Notice of Intent to remove soil or place fill. That fee has been prescribed in the Regulation as $150.
The changes make it an offense to bring fill into the ALR without first obtaining the permission of the ALC, whether through an application, a Notice of Intent, or through a regulatory exemption. It also makes it an offense to place fill of a different type or in a volume exceeding what was set out in the Notice of Intent.
This will create additional work for the ALC and the CEO so provisions have been built into the Bill to help alleviate this. First, the time period for the CEO to respond to a Notice of Intent is extended from 30 days in the current Act, to within 60 days in this Bill. Second, the CEO will be allowed to delegate their authority to respond to notices to ALC staff. The ALC also has three new soil resource positions to assist with the processing of applications.
It is important to note that while the new rules do increase work at the front end to review the Notices of Intent, this could lead to fewer C and E resources given that 45% of existing C and E files are soil and fill related and to the better preservation of land in the ALR for agriculture.