The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was established in 1973 to protect 4.7 million hectares of land in BC for agriculture – less than 5% of the province’s total land base. The ALR is managed by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). In 2018, there was a comprehensive review of the ALR, which led to recommendations to update the regulations on how farmland is managed in BC. We’ve pulled together the updates – check it out below!
On February 22, 2019, the Agricultural Land Reserve General Regulation and Agricultural Land Reserve Use Regulation were approved by B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor in Council, bringing into force changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act (ALCA) under Bill 52 – 2018.
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’ separation of the ALR for improved decision making and protection of this vital provincial land reserve for the benefit of agricultural production.
Definition of ‘Farm Use’
The term ‘farm use’ now also refers to the production of mushrooms and truffles in order to support these forms of agricultural food production on the ALR. ‘Farm use’ now excludes residential uses and soil or fill uses.
Amendments have created a new four-stream approach to land use in the ALR, allowing for the clear delineation and regulation of each: farm use; non-farm use; residential use; and soil or fill use.
Elimination of Zone 2
There were two situations where the regulation had different rules for land in Zone 2 which are no longer available:
- The updated regulation no longer permits a second single family dwelling, but only if the parcel is at least 50 ha in size and if the total area occupied by all residences and other residential structures, roads and service lines, and all land between them, is 4 000 m2 or less; and
- The updated regulation no longer permits a retired farmer to stay on the land in their own house by leasing back the small portion of land that includes the residence.
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 one residence 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 may forward the ALC any application for a ‘non-adhering’ residential use, for ALC review and decision.
Additional dwellings for farm use (‘additional residences’) such as a dwelling to house farm workers are allowed under the changes to the ALC Act, 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 a decision.
Key residential changes in the ALR
- Generally land in the ALR may have no more than one residence per parcel: ALCA, s. 20.1(1)(a), subject to certain grandfathering exceptions (see “Grandfathering Provisions” section). In addition, the Commission may approve an application for an additional residence if necessary for farm use, but the Commission is prohibited from approving an additional residence otherwise: ALCA, s. 25(1.1).
- New size, siting and use requirements apply to residential structures: ALCA, s. 20.1(1)(c).
- The total floor area of a principal residence must be 500 m2 or less in order to
comply with the ALCA, though a local government may impose a lower size cap under their bylaws: ALCA, ss. 20.1(1)(b), 46.
- Removal of provisions facilitating the construction of additional dwellings for farm help, manufactured homes for immediate family members, accommodation above an existing farm building, or (in parts of the province) a second single family dwelling. The ALCA provides some grandfathering protection for pre-existing structures of these kinds and the Commission may approve an application for an additional residence if necessary for farm use.
- If a landowner wishes in the absence of certain grandfathering exceptions to have a principal residence having a total floor area that is more than 500 m2, to have an additional residence, or to use a residential structure in a manner that contravenes the regulations, the landowner may submit an application to the Commission, through the local government, seeking Commission approval: ALCA, ss. 20.1(2), 25. The ALCA calls this type of application an “application for a non-adhering residential use”.
The changes make it an offence punishable by fine or jail time 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 offence to place fill of a different type or in a volume exceeding what was set out in the Notice of Intent.
The Cannabis production amendment to the Regulation released in July 2018 has not changed.
- Lawful production of cannabis in the ALR outdoors in a field is designated as farm use and can be undertaken without a non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission.
- Lawful production of cannabis in the ALR inside a structure that has a base consisting
entirely of soil is designated as farm use and can be undertaken without a non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission.
Read more about the ALR, ALC, and the updated regulation: