PENTICTON - Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen directors discussed Agricultural Land Commission issues with the commission chair this week.
Commission chair Frank Leonard gave directors a brief summary of his role and as chair and the present state of the land commission, before taking questions from the director’s board at their regular meeting Thursday.
Leonard says the commission deals with 500 applications annually. The commission is made up of six panels of three people each spread throughout the province.
Leonard says he makes the decision whether to pass an application to its respective panel. After the panels deal with their applications, they make a decision and pass the application back to the chair, who then has 60 days to determine whether the decision needs to be reconsidered.
Leonard doesn’t see every application, relying on the six provincial panels to make decisions on routine applications.
He says decision making at the commission differs from local government because the panels make a decision, the decision is conveyed to the applicant with the message the application has been approved, but the chair may want to reconsider.
“Sure enough they get a letter a month later, saying the chair is going to reconsider your application. Just imagine how you’d feel. It’s not like at a public hearing, where you make a decision and that’s it,” he says.
In answer to a question from Penticton Director Andre Martin about ruling wait times, Leonard says the commission needs to “step up our own game” in some instances where applicants have waited an undue length of time for a decision.
The commission has been dealing with a number of applications regarding homesite severances, which in the past have been considered “one off” applications. Leonard says the commission is now dealing with applications from families wanting to subdivide other lots for grandchildren.
“The question is how small a parcel is no longer viable as farmland?” he says, noting the commission has to weigh between what’s good for farming and farming families.
“These lots, once created, can be sold at any time,” he says.
Leonard feels better partnerships could be formed between local governments and the land commission. He says local governments know their communities, so the commission looks at and depends on local government information to make their decisions on land use. He also notes a number of applications are sent to the commission each year that have already been rejected by every agency involved prior to reaching the commission.
“We’re getting applications that everyone has rejected. Why are they being sent to us?” he asks.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at email@example.com or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.