Seasonal events, like the annual Easter egg hunt, are popular attractions at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm. The farm’s owners are concerned that the province’s new Bill 52 threatens the future of the business. (File photo)

Cowichan Valley farmers argue for repeal of Bill 52

Limits on farm dwellings, other issue, raise concerns

Many farmers in the Cowichan Valley and across B.C. are encouraging people to sign a petition calling for provincial Bill 52 to be repealed.

Included in Bill 52, which took effect in February, is a new rule that prevents farms from having a secondary non-farm-use dwelling for immediate family and limits the size of residences over fears of “megamansions” of up to 12,000 square feet on land designated as Agricultural Land Reserve.

Critics claim that this makes it difficult for families to have multi-generational homes on their farmland, or for small farms to offer housing to their farm hands.

RELATED STORY: SECONDARY HOME RULES ARE KILLING FAMILY FARMS, B.C. PROTESTERS SAY

Bill 52 also requires requests for exclusions for land for other purposes in the ALR be submitted to the Agricultural Land Commission by local governments, First Nations or the province instead of by landowners “as part of thoughtful land-use planning process,” according to a government release.

For farmers like Heather Skoretz, owner of the 84-acre Birds Eye Cove Farm on Genoa Bay Road, Bill 52 throws a monkey wrench into future plans for the farm, and her family.

She said a second home on the property would provide a place where workers could live while on the farm, and a home for her kids when they eventually take over the operation.

Skoretz said she understands that building large mansions on agricultural land has become a problem in places like Richmond, but it’s not a problem in most parts of the province, including the Cowichan Valley.

“It appears to mean that when we retire, we will have to move off the farm,” Skoretz said.

“I think Bill 52 also threatens a farm’s ability to have shops, bistros and other opportunities to enhance the farm and increase their ability to survive. We’ve already had to cancel our popular pizza nights because the Agricultural Land Commission limited us to 30 events a year. This legislation is a concern for all farmers.”

RELATED STORY: COWICHAN FARM CAN CONTINUE PUBLIC EVENTS, BUT WITH RESTRICTIONS

Skoretz said she and her family attended a rally against Bill 52 at the Legislature on B.C. Agriculture Day, and she’s encouraging people to sign a petition that is on the Facebook page ‘Changes to Bill 52’.

“There are almost 30,000 signatures on it now and we want as many as possible to send a message to government.”

A statement from the Ministry of Agriculture said that Bill 52 is a key part of the B.C. government’s efforts to revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve so that British Columbians can count on a safe, secure supply of locally grown food on their tables for years to come.

“Currently, farmers and ranchers are allowed two, three, four or more residences in the ALR, with permission from the Agricultural Land Commission,” the statement said.

“A core part of the ALC’s mandate is to protect farmland for farming and the Commission routinely approves additional residences for that reason. Every farm and ranch is different and each has its own residential needs that change over time, and the ALC reviews each application it receives separately and makes a decision based on the specific facts, consistent with their mandate.”

RELATED STORY: B.C. FARMERS CONCERNED AGRICULTURAL LAND RESERVE CHANGES CHOKING THEIR LIVELIHOOD

The statement said that during the consultation process on Bill 52, the ministry heard from families across B.C. that more changes are necessary.

“We’re now looking seriously at ideas like allowing flexibility for a small second residence, such as mobile homes or carriage houses,” the statement said.

“This option would require registering with the ALC but would not require an application or approval from the Commission, and this option would be for all ALR land owners, not just farmers.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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