The B.C. government has ruled on an issue that has perturbed Kelowna city hall in the past – the use of agricultural land for events that, up to now, the Agricultural Land Commission has said are not allowed to land in the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve.
The government says it has “brought clarity” to permitted agritourism activities and has established new opportunities for owners of agricultural land, such as hosting weddings, to help farmers. It’s a move the B.C. agriculture ministry says will help grow farmers incomes and help British Columbians share the growing passion for local foods and farming.
The ministry has developed a regulation that establishes that ALR land owners will not need a permit from the ALC to host specific activities like commercial weddings, concerts or non- agriculture related festivals, providing that:
• The farm is classified as having farm status under the Assessment Act
• No new, permanent structures are being built
• All parking is on the farm (no road parking) and the parking area is not permanent or interferes with the farm’s agricultural productivity
• The number of guests at any event no more than 150
• The number of events is 10 or less in a calendar year.
“The B.C. government is committed to an Agricultural Land Reserve that works for farmers and helps them grow their businesses through farming, food production and activities like agritourism,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country.
Under the new regulations, an application to the ALC is required if any of the above conditions are not met. For example, a farm that wishes to hold a wedding with 200 guests, or hosts the 11th wedding on their farm in a calendar year, will need to apply to the ALC.
In addition, regardless of whether an application to the ALC is required, farmers must also continue to meet all relevant local government requirements, such as event hosting, liquor licenses, and fire code requirements.
“These regulations offer a needed balance while allowing B.C. farmers to supplement their incomes through secondary activities that support farming and agriculture on their land.”
In the past, Kelowna council has publicly questioned—as have members of the public and farmers who watched other owners of ALR lands flaunt the previously stated rules—why the ALC said agricultural land could not be rented out for weddings but did nothing to stop it from happening.
The restrictions in to the new regulations do not apply to wineries, meaderies and cideries, as many are established providers of these services and already have infrastructure, licensing and procedures in place. These facilities can continue to operate as they have been without requiring an application to the ALC.
No application to the ALC is required for a farmer hosting weddings for family members or friends at no charge. But, if a farmer receives payment for hosting a wedding of a family member or friend, an application to the ALC would be required if any of the above conditions are not met.
Local governments cannot prohibit weddings from taking place on land in the ALR, but can require the farmers to apply for a permit which could specify conditions related to amplified sound, parking, fireworks or otherdisturbances.
“We welcome these clear definitions as it allows the ALC to continue to preserve farm land, while ensuring property owners have the supplemental incomes needed to be financially viable, said ALC chairman Frank Leonard.
Activities that do not require an application to the ALC include:
• Farm tours and farm demonstrations
• Hay, tractor and sleigh rides
• Corn mazes, pumpkin patch tours and related activities
• Seasonal promotional events (e.g., harvest and Christmas fairs and activities)
• Special promotional events (e.g., private or public special occasion events for the promotion of farm products).
The regulations go into effect immediately.
The government says they were established after discussions with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the British Columbia Agriculture Council, the Agriculture Land Commission, and the British Columbia Young Farmers Association in earlier this year.
“This regulation will provide additional clarity for local governments, the Agricultural Land Commission and ALR land owners. Minister Letnick engaged with UBCM as this regulation was being developed and I support the proposed changes,” said Al Richmond, president, Union of B.C. Municipalities.