BC government to allow new secondary homes with flexible uses on farmland

Aug 12 2021, 12:27 am

The provincial government has reversed course on some of its previous policies to crack down on the growing size of residential properties on farmland designated as part of the agricultural land reserve (ALR).

After an outcry from BC’s farming industry, ALR property owners will be given the option to build an additional small secondary home, effectively providing farmers and property owners with the ability to have both a principal residence and a small secondary residence.

The secondary home’s approval process is streamlined by only requiring permission from a municipal government or First Nations. No application to the provincial Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) is necessary.

The size of the secondary home depends on the size of the farmland and the existing home.

For ALR properties of 100 acres or smaller, if the existing principal residence has a total floor area of 5,400 sq ft or less, a secondary residence of 970 sq ft or less can be built. But if the existing residence is larger than 5,400 sq ft, a secondary residence for non-farm use would not be permitted.

Larger farm properties of 100 acres or more are permitted to have a secondary residence with a total floor area of up to 2,000 sq ft, regardless of the size of the existing primary residence.

The provincial government has dropped the requirement that an additional residence can only be used by the property owner or immediate family members. The policy changes now offer flexibility for the secondary residence to be used for housing extended family, agritourism, tourist accommodation, housing for farm labour, or a rental property for supplemental income.

These regulation changes will come into effect on December 31, 2021.

“We took the time to listen and come up with solutions that will help both farmers and non-farmers alike, while protecting the integrity of our valuable agricultural land,” said Lana Popham, BC minister of agriculture, food, and fisheries, in a statement.

“We hope this regulatory change will assist new farmers starting their businesses, encourage landowners to partner with new farmers to get their land into production, and address the needs of British Columbian families. Having an option for housing opens up new doors to families and provides more opportunities for more agricultural land to go into production, increasing our province’s food security.”

Restrictions enacted in 2019 still apply to the size of new primary residences, limiting the total floor area of these homes to 5,400 sq ft.

The policies limiting the size of homes were a response to the growing number of mansion-sized houses with luxury amenities — such as outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts — being built on ALR, especially within Metro Vancouver’s farming areas. Such ALR properties were previously sought for the “monster home” development potential, as the residential property taxes are significantly lower due to the technical farm status of the lots.

The previous ability to construct luxury residences on ALR was seen as a threat to BC’s capacity for food production. Some grandfathered development proposals previously approved under the old policies are currently under construction in communities such as Richmond.

Under the 2019 regulation changes, farming families can still apply to the ALC for multiple, larger homes if they are able to provide proof that they are necessary for an intensive farming business.

For instance, on-site accommodations are preferable for farming businesses, which rely on bringing in 12,000 temporary foreign workers to BC each year to work in agricultural businesses. Most of these workers are from Mexico, according to the provincial government.

Currently, about 47,000 sq km, or 5% of BC’s total land base, is preserved for agricultural uses. This is equivalent to an area over 17 times larger than the size of Metro Vancouver, including the watersheds in the North Shore mountains.

In recent years, based on provincial data, one hectare (2.47 acres) has an average crop yield of about 31,000 kg of potatoes, 15,000 kg of spinach, 18,000 kg of cranberries, or 6,000 kg of strawberries.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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