The Urban / Agricultural Interface
British Columbia is the most urbanized province in Canada. With its prominent "mountain/valley" physiography, there is a particular focus of urbanization and agriculture within narrow valleys. Two relatively small areas of B.C. (the Okanagan Valley and the southwest portion of B.C.) account for less than 3 percent of the province's land area. However, these same two areas are home to over 80 percent of British Columbians and generate over 80 percent of the province's annual gross farm receipts. People and agriculture are concentrated in the same area of the province.
In many communities, lengthy interfaces exist between agriculture and other land uses. Rapid population growth and historic land use patterns have accentuated the potential for land use conflict. B.C.'s diverse agriculture results in many types of farm activities, some of which may lead to concerns from non-farm neighbours about dust, odour, or noise. Farmers also experience impacts from their non-farm neighbours, including trespass, litter, crop theft and flooding from urban development. Agricultural operations are more vulnerable at the urban edge.
Local governments continually face land use compatibility issues which are often focused along urban/agricultural edges. Historically, little attention has been paid to developing policies that can enhance land use compatibility and ensure the security of agriculture at the interface.
The Strengthening Farming Program has focused efforts to assist edge planning processes. Municipal and regional district planning activities are particularly well suited to investigate the "where and how" questions associated with edge planning. Official Community Plans and Agricultural Area Plans can give direction to more detailed edge planning processes. The application of land use inventories in combination with geographic information systems (GIS), provide practical means to clearly understand the land use dynamics on both sides of the urban/agricultural edge. This will ensure solutions are based on ”'shared responsibility”.
Planning tools provide local governments with opportunities to employ different methods to improve land use compatibility. When the Strengthening Farming legislative package was enacted, specific components were designed to enhance local government's ability to undertake edge planning along agriculture's interface. Based on the principle of "shared responsibility", there are both urban and agriculture side tools. These tools include:
- The designation of Development Permit Areas for the protection of farming. This provision of the Local Government Act (LGA) allows for the application of buffering and other techniques on the ‘urban side’. (LGA Section 488(1)(c) and 491(6));
- With the approval of the Minister of Agriculture, the adoption of Farm Bylaws under LGA Section 552 by local governments may provide for opportunities on the ‘agricultural side’ to add flexibility in operational standards to achieve greater land use compatibility. To do so, local governments have become ‘regulated’ under LGA Section 553;
- Land Title Act provisions provide Subdivision Approval Officers opportunities to ensure that urban development next to farming is done in a manner that lessens the potential for conflict. An approving officer may refuse a plan of subdivision if adequate buffering on the ‘urban’ side of the interface is not provided or unnecessary roads are proposed to lead into the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). (LTA Section 86 (1)(c)(x) and (xi)).
To help promote compatibility between farmers and their neighbours, guidelines have been developed that will support local governments when addressing urban/agricultural compatibility issues - on both sides of the edge.
A Subdivision Design Example
Eliminating road endings directed at the ALR, and including adequate urban side buffering into a subdivision's design, can make significant improvements to land use compatibility. For example, the left photo below shows a subdivision beside agricultural land with a side road ending at the edge of the farm, with no buffering. The right photo shows the same subdivision with the road carrying on around the corner (no side road) and buffering installed between the backyard of the houses and the farm.
While not part of the Strengthening Farming Program legislative package, when considering applications under the Agricultural Land Commission Act, the Commission often includes conditions for the express purpose of contributing to land use compatibility. The Commission has published an associated Landscaped Buffer Specifications document (1993).