Regional District accepts new deal with land commission, despite costs

The Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board of directors voted to accept a new delegation agreement with the Agriculture Land Commission on Thursday, despite significant new work and costs for the district.

Area C director Lara Beckett said despite the new costs and workload for district staff, its important for local people to be involved in land use planning decisions.

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"I think the value of having some local control over these decisions in the ALR is important for our communities. It's an opportunity for us to work with landowners locally," Beckett said.

The regional district's regional official community plans recognize the importance of maintaining local agriculture in the district, she added.

"I think if we relinquish our delegated authority, we're going directly contrary to those priorities."

The regional district has had a delegation agreement with the ALC since 2002, which allows the district board to make decisions regarding subdivisions and non-farm use of land within the Agricultural Land Reserve, when the proposal meets the terms of an approved official community plan, according to a report by district staff to the board. In May, the ALC approached the district with a proposed replacement agreement which district staff estimated would create 377 person-hours of additional administrative work per year, or about 47 hours per application.

District staff estimated it would cost the district more than $60,000 per year in labour and reduce the cost recovery for processing the applications from 95 per cent to 12 per cent.

The ALC charges land owners $900 per application to the commission. Under the current agreement, the regional district keeps $300 for the initial processing of the application, which is then passed to ALC staff for completion.

Under the new agreement, the district would keep the entire $900 fee, district manager of development services Kenna Jonkman said. However, the estimated cost in staff time to process a single application was $7,585.

"I understand the applications are not cost-recovery for the commission either," Jonkman said.

Jonkman said the ALC had considered increasing fees to recover the costs of processing applications, which resulted in an increase in the application fee from $600 to $900 in April 2016.

Area A director Warren Wilson said in his view, it's time to end the agreement and allow the ALC to carry the full burden.

"There is nothing in (the report) to indicate it's to the advantage of the regional district - it's just a big cost," Wilson said. "We really have no input on what goes on."

The ALC would retain the ability to overrule any decision made locally, and "we lose our ability to control our OCP."

The ALC would have the authority to reject the regional district's official community plans if it doesn't approve of them.

"After reading this report, I wondered why we're part of this at all," Area G director Terry Burgess said. "Each application costs (more than) $7,000 to process, and we get $900. (And) the commission has made a bunch of stupid rules, and we have to enforce them."

District chairperson Art Kaehn suggested the district consider approving the delegation agreement on a trial basis for a year, then make a long-term decision on whether to continue.

"It's a new agreement and the costs aren't hard and fast," he said.

The district board voted to proceed with the agreement, despite votes against by Wilson, Burgess, McBride director Rick Thompson, Valemount director Jeannette Townsend and Prince George director Albert Koehler.

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