Monday, April 12, 2010

Central Saanich under siege

Former Central Saanich Councillor Zeb King keeps me apprised of threats posed to the agricultural lands of this peninsula municipality. New developments proposed are threatening the Agricultural Land Reserve that protects some of our local food sources. Housing and commercial development are the main threats and a Zeb is trying to build community awareness about the issues and challenges.

Here's a couple of sources you can look at to find out more:

And here's one of my pics on the peninsula:


  1. Hello there John, just to correct one thing, the land that the Vantreights are proposing to develop is not in the ALR. It is outside of the regional growth strategy boundaries and it is zoned as rural by Central Saanich. The issue is about development outside of the containment boundary.

    The Vantreights argue that the development of that land will help preserve one of the last contiguous large farms in all of the CRD. For them not allowing the development will lead to the loss of agricultural land because they will have to sell off lots that currently farmed. That land would most likely become home to large monster houses and a bunch of horse paddocks, some of the biggest uses of agricultural land on the peninsula.

    The existing lot is roughly half in the ALR and half out. They are proposing to separate the ALR land and amalgamating it with some other ALR titles which would then reduce the ability for that land to ever become a horse farm. Whether you like their development or not, title consolidation will help protect existing ALR land for the long term.

    Both the ALR the RGS containment boundary were both applied with broad brushes. Since 1974 there has been a lot of work by the ALC to make sure what is ALR is actually farmland and that farmland missed in the original work is included. The RGS needs to do some similar work, there containment boundaries were never intended to be the final word but the expression of containing urban sprawl and minimizing loss of green space, especially agricultural land.

    What will happen to the region if the existing Vantreight farm is sold by each individual parcel? Titles range for an acre or two to 100+ acres in size. Each title will be allowed to have two houses on it(I am not certain the exact number for all the lots). If the farm goes down and is sold as individual parcels, then there is the potential for another 50-80 houses on agricultural land in Central Saanich.

    The land will be too expensive for almost anyone to buy for farming purposes. The dispute between the brothers almost meant an end to the farm earlier. It is only because one of them was willing to risk taking on a lot of debt that the farm exists. As a family they have done their part to keep farming alive and we are not responsible for saving their farm, but they retain the right to sell parcels of land. That is the threat. They found a creative and minimally invasive solution to the problem.

  2. Thank you Bernard. There are also parallels with the Madrona Farms effort.

    It is fair to criticize the Ian and Ryan Vantrieight for paying too much for Michael's share but that is neither here nor there. That is in the past. What we need to deal with now is the sustainability of the farm. The effort by otherwise well-meaning people could backfire disastrously.

  3. There are serious issues with Vantrieght's application at many levels. For me the most serious is the process that has left the community at large totally out of the picture. We have councillors who are active supporters of the development, but I don't recall any of them being particularly forthright about their position during the election campaigning. I also don't recall any of them being particularly forthright about financial support they received from Vantrieght for their election campaigns.

  4. The important thing to remember is that we can hold the Central Saanich Councilors accountable for their actions. The allegations regarding the election donations may never be cleared up. The thing to focus on now is process. We must ensure that all the processes that are in place to protect the public from reckless elected officials must be kept in play. The general public must be kept informed regarding the details of the councilors voting records in context to the destruction of the rural nature of Central Saanich.

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  6. There are some important items that need to be made clear here.
    Part of the land in questions was in the ALR until Ian Vantreight swapped it out for another piece last year. All of the land is outside of our designated urban containment zone (the area that we decided as a community is the area we are willing to allow housing in). It is not outside the "regional growth strategy boundaries" as the earlier writer suggests (terminology matters).
    The urban containment zone is part of our OCP (Official Community Plan) which we created and then reviewed last year at a cost of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars each time.
    Special interests then come along and stand common sense on its head in order to tear up our OCP for their own personal benefit. This is not in the best interests of our community, nor is it a fair process: if you don't get what you want by persuading us during the OCP review you elect the councillors you need to bust up the OCP and get the job done against our wishes. Welcome to New Jersey on the Peninsula!
    This land is zoned A1 which is rural and agricultural even though it is not in the ALR. In fact, it has been consistently used for agricultural purposes (composting, vehicle storage) for years. These things will now be moved onto productive land thereby taking away more agricultural land by attrition. When the bio-digester project gets going we will then have an industrial site sprawling over the productive land.
    By allowing this development we will be doing even more harm to farmers as once again we will be raising land values to levels new farmers cannot afford. Each time we sell farmland we make the remaining farmland less affordable. If the Vantreights wish to sell off land in small pieces so be it. Smaller pieces will allow other farmers to buy more affordable chunks and if they do the kind of thoughtful farming that the organic farmers on the peninsula have been doing for the last few years: they can really make a small piece pay. I know many farmers (old and new) who would happily acquire a piece of this land without building houses or putting horse rings on it.
    Larger farms do not guarantee that the land will be protected in the ALR in perpetuity. In fact the ALR has become a sieve under a government who's appointees allow pretty much any applications for removal to go through.
    The Agricultural Land Commission has been failing spectacularly to protect farmland. Land comes out for highways (which are really just subsidies to oil, gas and other multinational corporations so they have free roads to transport their goods out of the country). Land comes out for housing (none of it affordable by any sensible measure). Land comes out for transmission lines, grocery stores, restaurants and just about anything that puts short term dollar signs in Liberal eyes.
    Land comes out because friends of the BC Liberals are getting their reward. Title consolidation is utterly meaningless to preserving farmland in this ALR!

  7. I believe we need to develop a land trust where the government, The Land Conservancy et al buy the land as farmers retire at fair market value and then leases it out to new farmers at very low rates. This trust would be at arm's length from govt and would not be allowed to sell the land (or to lease it for any other purpose than farming). Whatever we decide, we must decide on it together, not piecemeal and certainly not one special interest at a time. If we had a reasonable provincial government, a compromise, such as this would be possible. As things stand right now we have a government that is attacking farmland and the green buffer zones around them at a dizzying pace, so we must wait.

    The very reason land is so expensive is because we have been overbuilding all over the province. We sell the land to development speculators who sell to offshore investors—often these houses stand empty once built, but the damage has been done as the market 'value' of the land has replaced the sustainable biological value of the land. Developers have priced our farms out of the reach of new farmers.

    You can't save a farm by selling it and selling this piece will guarantee that the fields below it (and below Dean Park) will be next up for development. Once it begins it does not end. All the same arguments were made as Gordon Head was gradually subdivided and sold and that was some of the best farmland on the Island.

    Unfortunately for Mr. Vantreight the time has come to stop the sell off of the land. The debt he incurred in buying the property was a business decision. The community should not have to pay for that decision.

  8. This hillside is home to native bees which are especially needed now that the domesticated bees have died off (90% this past winter). Useful insects live in the trees and in the brush and scrub around the trees. The hillside has many protected trees: arbutus, dogwood, garry oak, etc. and is home to songbirds, quail, pheasants and owls, and also to small animals. It is an integrated eco-system.

    The roots of the trees hold back the water after rainstorms and allow it to soak slowly into Hagan Creek Aquifer under the field below. This aquifer feeds Hagan Creek, a fish bearing stream which has been rehabilitated at great expense to the community (and with great community participation). It provides water not only for the Vantreights, but for other farms in the area. Paving this over would cause the water to run off into storm drains and prevent the recharge of the aquifer. Parking vehicles on any unpaved areas would see oil drips seeping into the aquifer and spoiling the water: you only need a very tiny amount of oil to destroy huge water tables.

    In addition the area is needed as a buffer between the farm and the residences above. It keeps sounds and smells away from the homes. I have attended many council meetings where neighbours in a new development built on an old buffer zone are complaining about the noise, the chemicals, the smell and the hours of the farm next door and council is tasked with trying to find a way to settle things between them (usually at the expense of the farmer). Often the battle is over water as developments overuse the water needed to irrigate the farm. If we build this the neighbours will be right beside the farm and the battle will begin anew.

    The cost to taxpayers will also be large as there is no way the development will be sustainable as is suggested. The Central Saanich planner, Hope Burns, has been very clear that developments always end up costing the taxpayers extra. Once the properties are sold and the developers are long gone who will pay for the maintenance of streets, street lights, sidewalks, storm drains, playgrounds, bus stops, extra fire and ambulance services, more or expanded schools, parks etc., etc.?
    While it is true that these houses will increase the tax base, the developers always fail to mention that they will also increase the tax costs and that this figure is always higher than what the taxpayers in the development can pay for on their own. Our 'business' councillors see no problem loading the municipality up with debt by borrowing against our future.

    The footprint of this development will be enormous. Think of each house having two cars and each suite having one (this is a minimum estimate and does not include business vehicles that the homeowners may have or second cars for the suites). Now think how often these vehicles will be on the move. They will be creating wear and tear on all the local roads and we will need more parking at local businesses.

    The current development proposal is actually larger than the earlier one because now we are being offered 58 houses with suites which means 116 units. The earlier plan was 89 units and 11 suites and before that we were at 246 units.

    One of the lessons I've learned over the years is that once the land is rezoned, there is no controlling what is done with it. Once rezoned it can be flipped (sold) and a new developer can build something entirely unexpected. This is what happened with Port Royal on the Saanich Inlet. Our planner has stated on several occasions that covenants are of little value and are very easily broken.

    As a community, we have gone through the Official Community Plan process twice and each time citizens have made it clear that they expect homes to be built within the designated urban containment boundaries to protect the rural and farm lands so that something is left untouched for the future.