Central Saanich agricultural land purchase pending ALC approval

No new taxes needed to fund deal for Maber Flats, says municipality.

  • Jan. 22, 2015 6:00 p.m.

The path leading to improvements to storm water management on Maber Flats in Central Saanich has been long and uncertain and there are still a few bends in the road for the municipality to navigate.

The District has entered into a purchase-and-donation agreement with the property owner that, if it goes through, will start the process of building an agricultural drainage facility.

The appraised value of the land is $1,172,000 and with the current owner donating 10 per cent of the value back to the municipality, the final purchase price will be $1,054,800.

Funds will come from reserves, said Patrick Robins, chief administrative officer for the District of Central Saanich. He noted that, as of Dec. 31, 2013, the District had more than $5 million in reserves and surplus.

“The message here is that no new tax dollars are required to purchase the Maber Flats land.”

But while funding might not be an issue, there are several other potential stumbling blocks to finalizing the deal and moving forward on the plans to build the facility.

“There are conditions within the purchase and donation agreement that are still outstanding,” said Robins.

In order for the purchase to go through, the Agricultural Land Commission has to approve both an application for non-farm use on the property and a subdivision of the property to allow for the sale.

“Should those approvals be met, the municipality can conclude the deal,” said Robins.

Last year, there were 16 approved applications each for both non-farm use and subdivision of Agricultural Land Reserve properties, so it’s not an unheard of situation, but as each proposal is judged individually, prior decisions don’t really factor in.

“The commission’s primary focus is to look at each application on its merit, and it does so in the context of what the (ALC’s) mandate is, which is to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming,” said Brian Underhill, deputy chief executive officer for the Commission.

Underhill, who has been with the ALC since 1980, couldn’t comment specifically on the Maber Flats application, but said the big picture needs to be looked at when making a decision to change use on ALR lands.

The Commission looks at the size and magnitude of an application, the effects on adjacent lands and positive and negative implications of any proposal.

“Every case has its unique set of facts and evidence,” he said.

“There may be broader community effects out of a proposal that might solve a larger problem within the community,” he said, such as the construction of a road to improve emergency access to an area, for example.

“Those things are obviously important, but the Commission’s focus is on the agricultural benefit,” said Underhill. “And oftentimes, if you convert agricultural land to non-farm use, it’s unlikely that it will return.”

“There have been ongoing discussions going back a number of years regarding Maber Flats, so it’s not something that’s new to any of us,” he added.

“This is the point and time to determine whether the District’s application should be approved, and we’ll be getting to that hopefully early this year.”

Though it’s impossible to pin down a timeline for the process, Underhill said that the commission tries to respond in a three to six month period to most proposals.

That being said, the ALC receives 400 to 500 applications throughout the province each year, and each of those take time, he said.

“It could very well be several months.”

As of last week according to Robins, “council has received no official response.”

Stay tuned for updates. For more information on the Agricultural Land Commission, visit www.alc.gov.bc.ca.

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