Hous­ing at Wood­wynn Farm a net ben­e­fit

B.C. Agri­cul­tural Land Com­mis­sion erred when it re­jected non-farm use ap­pli­ca­tion

Times Colonist - - Comment - BRIAN HOLL Brian Holl lives in Vic­to­ria.

The re­cent de­ci­sion by the B.C. Agri­cul­tural Land Com­mis­sion to refuse the ap­pli­ca­tion for a non-farm use on the Wood­wynn Farm prop­erty in Cen­tral Saanich should be deeply dis­ap­point­ing to any­one con­cerned about lo­cal agri­cul­ture and the so­cial fab­ric of Greater Vic­to­ria.

The prop­erty, run by the Cre­at­ing Home­ful­ness So­ci­ety, of­fers a ther­a­peu­tic pro­gram of train­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for in­di­vid­u­als strug­gling with ad­dic­tions, home­less­ness and/or men­tal-health chal­lenges.

The non-farm use ap­pli­ca­tion was to pro­vide on-site hous­ing for pro­gram par­tic­i­pants by ex­clud­ing 0.8 hectares (ap­prox­i­mately one per cent) of the land base from di­rect agri­cul­tural use. In mak­ing its de­ci­sion, the ALC con­cluded: “While the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee rec­og­nizes the so­cial ben­e­fits of the pro­posal, it does not out­weigh the pri­or­ity given to agri­cul­ture.”

The ba­sis for the de­ci­sion also ref­er­enced the com­mis­sion man­date re­gard­ing its role in (a) preser­va­tion of agri­cul­tural land, and (b) en­cour­ag­ing farm­ing on agri­cul­tural land. In re­fus­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion, I be­lieve the com­mis­sion has made a fun­da­men­tal mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of its man­date.

While the so­cial ben­e­fit is the driv­ing force be­hind the farm, the com­mis­sion was asked to rule specif­i­cally on a non-farm use that is a cen­tral com­po­nent of a busi­ness model for op­er­a­tion of a labour-in­ten­sive, in­te­grated, mixed-farm­ing op­er­a­tion.

The con­se­quence of the ex­clu­sion of 0.8 ha of the farm­land base would be to pro­vide di­rect and ef­fec­tive sup­port to the par­tic­i­pant work­ers, to en­hance the ef­fi­ciency of the work force in the agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tion, and to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce over­head costs for off-site hous­ing and trans­porta­tion. To sug­gest that this “loss” of agri­cul­tural land is a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern also demon­strates an in­sti­tu­tional blind­ness to the ram­pant spec­u­la­tion in agri­cul­tural land that is in­creas­ing costs, alien­at­ing pro­duc­tive land and de­creas­ing agri­cul­tural out­put through­out the prov­ince — par­tic­u­larly in the south­west re­gion.

Prior to the cur­rent own­er­ship, this farm had not been man­aged to its agri­cul­tural po­ten­tial. The in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity of the land as a con­se­quence of hous­ing the on-site labour force is likely to be or­ders of mag­ni­tude greater than the lost pro­duc­tiv­ity from 0.8 ha of hay land.

The ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the com­mis­sion ap­pears to have been un­able or un­will­ing to eval­u­ate an atyp­i­cal agri­cul­tural busi­ness model for high-value mixed-farm pro­duc­tion that is pred­i­cated on a ded­i­cated on-site labour force.

Pro­duc­tiv­ity en­hance­ments to date have demon­strated the po­ten­tial for the farm to be­come an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to the district agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity — a so­cial ben­e­fit di­rectly linked to its agri­cul­tural pur­pose and part of a pro­gram that should be fa­cil­i­tated and en­cour­aged by any ci­ti­zen in­ter­ested in the sur­vival of lo­cal agri­cul­ture and healthy com­mu­ni­ties.

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