Working with Local Governments
Planning Opportunities and Processes
Local governments play an important role in enabling farm businesses to thrive on protected farmlands, therefore contributing to the local, regional and provincial economy. The ALC supports coordinated and collaborative planning with local governments to ensure agricultural lands are protected and available to provide food and other agricultural products for generations to come
Approximately 150 local governments have lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR); some having large areas of ALR land in their jurisdiction, others with very little.
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.
General information about consultation on land use plans and bylaws is outlined below. For more comprehensive information, please contact our Regional Planners and review our publication, ALC Bylaw Reviews: A Guide for Local Governments. This guide provides straightforward information to support local government land use planning and bylaw development in the ALR, including:
- Local governments’ roles and responsibilities in regulating land uses in the ALR;
- How to ensure new or amended plans and bylaws affecting the ALR are consistent with the ALC Act, the ALR Regulations, and the Local Government Act; and,
- The process by which ALC staff and/or Commissioners review and endorse local government plans and policies affecting the ALR.
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 that may impact agriculture.
The Local Government Act specifies that all official community plans for areas containing ALR lands must be referred to the ALC.
Consultation with the ALC should be initiated early in the planning process, preferably before first readying, via a referral. If public meetings, hearings, or consultation sessions are being held, ALC staff may attend some to gain an understanding of the issues and perspectives of the various stakeholders involved. ALC Bylaw Reviews: A Guide for Local Governments outlines in more detail how the ALC will review an OCP and what our staff and Commissioners look for in their review.
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. The Minister of Agriculture’s approval should 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, the ALC, 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. More information about Farm Bylaws is available in the Ministry Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas.
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 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), and for information on current local government agricultural area plans, refer to the Ministry’s Agricultural Area Plans 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.
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.
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 29(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.