Neighbours frustrated by rats, light and noise pollution and fecal dust from a cattle feed lot in residential Gordon Head are cautiously optimistic after Saanich council moved the two-year stalemate forward on Monday night.
Coun. Fred Haynes brought forward a proposal for a “one-time deviation” from Saanich’s usual practice when dealing with the removal and rezoning of Agricultural Land Reserve property.
“My job is to represent the interests of the community, and I don’t think we serve that interest by avoiding this issue,” Haynes said before the vote. “My motion is about process, not land use of homes versus farms.”
The Alberg family, who owns the 1.6-hectare property at 1516 Mt. Douglas Cross Rd., put forward a development proposal to subdivide the land in 2012. But they were told they first had to remove the land from the ALR under a long-standing but unwritten Saanich practice. The family refused, fearing they would be stuck with unusable farm land and the possible rejection of their development proposal. They then put in a cattle feed lot in 2013 to the dismay of nearby neighbours like Jinx Barber, who said she and her family can’t bear another summer near the feed lot.
“We’ve had the most horrible time imaginable,” Barber told council. “I think the neighbourhood has been saddened, disrespected, and your policy has to change because you’re really affecting the people in this neighbourhood.”
The packed room of about 130 people included Ray Galey of Galey Farms, who argued passionately against the belief by some that the farmland can be salvaged for crop use.
“Any land can be farmed, but this piece is past that,” Galey said. “We do need our farmland, but this (property) is too late.”
Neighbour Janet Stark told council she stopped counting after trapping 60 rats on her property that have proliferated since the feed lot began. David Chambers was in the minority of speakers when he argued the land should still be preserved for farming.
After public speaking concluded, Coun. Vic Derman sympathized with nearby homeowners, but said he worried Haynes’ exception could lead another developer to expect “favourable treatment by putting pressure on the neighbourhood.”
“We don’t want to leave that message to some in the development community that if you put enough pressure on your neighbourhood, that you’ll get more opportunity to get through (an application) more easily,” Derman said.
Mayor Richard Atwell said the neighbourhood has to heal from the long-standing issue.
“We’re not going to get anywhere close to that unless we move forward,” Atwell said.
Haynes’ motion – which after an hour of passionate public input and council debate received unanimous support – means council will soon consider the 16-lot subdivision for the property. The Alberg family will need to apply to a provincial body to have the land removed from the ALR at some point before that development application and rezoning could be approved. Council could also reject the application altogether and require the land to remain as permanent farmland.
“I think we’re at one of those moments where in showing good faith, this council can reach out to the applicant and ask them what they wish to have considered on this property while keeping an open mind,” Brice said.
When the motion passed, the council chambers audience erupted in applause.
Lawyer John Alexander, who represents the Alberg family, said the decision was “good news” and said the family is ready to move forward as soon as possible.
“My client is entitled by law to at least have his application considered. And that’s what this motion does,” Alexander said.
The Alberg property has been zoned for residential use since the 1980s, but its ALR designation allows the right to farm. It is identified as residential in the Gordon Head local area plan and the Agricultural Land Commission identified the property as appropriate for removal from the ALR in the 1980s.
Council will now set a date for public hearing on the Alberg property rezoning at a yet-to-be-determined committee of the whole meeting.