Maple Ridge farmland protector concerned about applications

Council though has attached conditions to small lot

Applications for farmland exclusions divide community. (THE NEWS/files)

Two applications to withdraw small parcels of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve have renewed Annette Lebox’s concern for farmland in Maple Ridge.

One proposal for a small lot at 216th Street on the newly widened 128th Avenue has already gone to the Agricultural Land Commission for approval for agricultural or agri-tourism use.

However, that’s just a housekeeping step because the property is less than an acre in size and is actually exempt from ALR rules.

Nevertheless, exclusion is the first step before a possible rezoning to some other use.

Coun. Craig Speirs pointed out online that council attached some conditions to forwarding the application to the ALC. For council, any future development should be for only agricultural or agri-tourism uses.

“The bottom line was that any permitted uses have to benefit agriculture,” he said.

A staff report notes that the property is located outside the urban area boundary, where suburbs and businesses are allowed. Therefore, the most “supportable” use would be rural commercial – which allows shopping and a limit range of services for a rural population.

Rezoning to commercial use would be a complicated process because the land is currently considered agricultural in both the city’s long-term plan and Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy. Changing that use would require amending both plans.

Another parcel at 232nd Street and 128th Avenue is also proposed for exclusion. Members of the public have until Feb. 12 to comment in writing to the city.

LeBox remains concerned about developing farmland.

She says imports of cheap California fruits and vegetables are declining as that state struggles with drought. That will increase the importance of local food production.

Lebox, a local authour and environmentalist, expects the land commission to be tougher in protecting farmland under the new NDP government, “but you never know.”

Speirs said there have been no new developments in a proposal to remove 202 acres of what used to be the Pelton tree nursery property on 203rd Street and Golden Ears Way for development as a business park. That property is now owned by Aquilini Investment Group.

The Aquilini group said in 2016 that the property could produce 3,300 jobs and $10 million yearly in property taxes to the city if developed as a business park.

But Speirs said that converting farmland into industrial use is a lazy politician’s approach.

“People are trying to find a simple approach, when it’s a complex issue.”

He said the ALC is unlikely to approve an exclusion application for the Aquilini property.

“I don’t think there will be any chance of getting it out.”

Maple Ridge has identified other properties throughout the city that could become industrial.

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