Ted Lea stands in one of his neighbour’s yards that backs onto the Alberg cow feed farm in Gordon Head in 2013.

Gordon Head cattle farm fight stuck in the mud

Alberg farm enters second season with plans to increase cattle to 80 head by October

Neighbours of an urban cattle farm in Gordon Head are hoping to break the ongoing stalemate between the landowners and municipality with a petition that supports the farm’s removal from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The farm, owned by the Alberg family, enters its second season as a cattle feedlot this fall after council twice turned down development proposals for the site; the number of cattle will increase to                       80 head by October.

“The cattle farm is senseless, destructive and unnecessary,” said Ted Lea, one of 326 residents whose name is on a petition to convince council to rezone the property and divide it into 16 residential development lots.

“The Albergs are co-operative with us and we want to see Saanich move forward with the development,” Lea said.

Living with cows as neighbours made for a particularly unpleasant winter last year, Lea said. Now locals are lobbying the District to avoid a repeat of that bovine bedlam.

“We’ve had sick children from the fecal dust wafting over,” Lea claimed. “Kids can’t even play in their back yards.”

Neither Saanich staff, council nor the Albergs are able to find middle ground through the bureaucratic predicament that has clouded 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd. in a supposed ring of dung dust.

Don Alberg cites a lack of trust since their original 16-lot plan was turned down by Saanich council in 2011, followed by a 12-lot plan voted down in 2012.

Saanich says the farm needs its Agricultural Land Reserve title removed by the provincial Agricultural Land Commission before the District approves rezoning. The Albergs, and supportive neighbours like Lea, believe Saanich should pass the necessary rezoning bylaw prior to the farm’s removal from the ALR, or do both simultaneously.

Yet with the cattle investment growing into a sustainable business, Alberg wants to keep cattle there until council accepts his current 16-lot development application brought forward last March.

“It’s not illegal to rezone while it’s in the ALR, but there’s been a line drawn in the sand,” said Alberg, who inherited the property where he was born and grew up, and now shares with siblings Gordon Alberg and Florence Davis. “We’re small potatoes fighting a big corporation here. When we brought the cows in, it was called a bully tactic, but I question who’s been bullied.”

Mayor Frank Leonard remains clear Saanich won’t approve residential rezoning until the ALR title is removed from the property.

“It’s never been in front of the ALC, but they’ve said they’ll approve it. We’ll take a neutral position and let the ALC decide,” Leonard said.

But Lea and Alberg want Saanich to revisit its “unwritten practise” for this unique situation and settle the matter.

If the rezoning and ALR title removal could be passed simultaneously, the cattle could be relocated to another farm in Qualicum Beach, Alberg said.

One of the ongoing legal debates between the parties includes the definition of a legal non-conforming ruling by Saanich, which would allow the farmers to retain the cattle lot if ALR removal and residential rezoning isn’t approved.

“We’re willing to work with (Saanich) if they want to realistically address the legal non-conforming definition,” Alberg said.

Lea said the near-universal neighbourhood support for residential development of the farm should be enough to convince council to find a solution to the impasse.

For now, they’ll be preparing for another winter of urban cattle in their backyards.

reporter@saanichnews.com